Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014 No comments »

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

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It’s a buck, Jack

March 14th, 2014 No comments »

What the hell is it with Spare Change News? or maybe their vendors? and Bostonians, Cantabrigians? and Somervillains?

For crying out loud in a bucket, as my mother used to say when she was disgusted. Buy the damned rag. Enjoy the unique content. Feel a wee twinge of compassion and humanity.

First for urbanites, if you have any sense of hipness, you’ll want to get every issue. They are rife with poetry and social-action news nobody else has or bothers to cover.

Second, it’s low output, small beer for the reward. The vendors pay 35¢ per copy out of pocket. They sell them for $1 each and keep the 65¢ per. They are working, earning money honestly. Give ‘em a break.

There is no shame in honest labor.

I seek out the vendors. In case you are fastidious or a self-righteous type, you can check a vendor’s bona fides without dirtying yourself. They have ID tags they wear on their shirt, blouse, dress or jacket. You’re doing a good thing by buying and nobody’s scamming anybody.

Third, the vendors are to a man and woman sincere and jolly. Have a few words, connect with a human you didn’t know before and be human and humane yourself.

I see folk in Downtown Crossing, Harvard Square and elsewhere scurrying like Esplanade picnickers who have just noticed a rat crawling behind the Fiedler’s head sculpture. Honest to God, Spare Change vendors won’t transfer vermin to you. Instead, you might have the most genuine interaction of the day by buying a copy.

Do it.

 

 

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Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014 No comments »

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

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Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014 No comments »

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

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The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

screech2
There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

icetongs
The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.

 

 

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Food for the hungry minister

March 5th, 2014 No comments »

The hallmark of social-activist preachers is not complacency. Instead, they should inspire you to both think and act. You want it, you get it, in Twice-Told Tales: A Collection of 21 Sermons.

I am surprised to recommend a collection of homilies. If you pardon the expression, Lord knows that I have squirmed enough times listening to tedious, cliched, often repetitious preaching. While the author doesn’t have a recognizable first name among his Rev. Dr. Farley Wilder Wheelwright, he is an excellent minister, both from the pulpit and, as many have told me, for pastoral counseling.

Disclaimers: I have known Farley for decades, back to 1987, when he was interim Senior Minister at Boston’s Arlington Street Church. I was a board (Prudential Committee) member, then chair. We solved many problems together. I loved his preaching and we have been good friends since. I also wrote the book’s forward.

The book has some potent historical mentions. Farley is still, as he has always been, an egalitarian, free-thinking, atheist, activist. Ministers in general and UU ones in particuar divvy into a big bucket of the timid and a smaller one of the righteous. My chum was active in civil rights, knowing many of the leaders and being a friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, Rev. King was to deliver the Rev. Wheelwright’s installation sermon, only to be assassinated a few days before that could happen.

Over my life involved as a worshiper and in various churches’ politics and polity, I have known many ministers. I have lost count of the boring and inane sermons I have heard. The winners are regular surprises and delights. Farley’s book is filled with those.

As a side note, the Arlington Street Church has an illustrious history filled with many noted Unitarian preachers. It is know as the mother church of American Unitarianism, as the base for Rev. William Ellery Channing (although he had to go to Baltimore to preach the sermon that defined his brand of religion, because the board found him too radical). I joined the ASC when the Rev. Victor Carpenter was senior minister. He did not believe in comfortable congregants and gave us social-action homework from the pulpit weekly. Following Farley and to this day the Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie holds the high pulpit. She can be insipid, but when she hits one, it is out of the proverbial park. She is the rarest of liberal preachers, a charismatic one.

Farley is a magnificent preacher. He is smarter and better read than any minister you are likely to have known. Yet, his sermons got you to the conclusions without letting his intellect get in the way.

When he began discussing this project with me, he envisioned it as a nice-to-have for new ministers. He knew that there are likely the roots of three to five sermons in each of his. He figured newbies would benefit. He says he’d be happy for them to built sermons from these and they’d only need give him credit if they lifted large portions or whole ones.

Drawing on my experience with ministers, I think more established preachers might gain more. As we all who visit various churches have noted, many of the same sermons reemerge. For UUs and beyond, I think immediately of the Rev. Clark Dewey Wells’ You be glad at that star.  Sure, it’s a good idea and sermon, but why have so many ministers modified or lifted it? The answer is simply that most run out of ideas. They are constantly reading their peers’ work and listening to their podcasts. They aren’t forever insightful and creative. They really couldn’t cut it as newspaper columnists who have to come up with three or five pieces a week. Although in fairness, sermons are not their only duties.

I have read or skimmed numerous books of sermons. They tend to the trivial and saccharine.  From my ASC days, I recall visiting the Boston Athenæum for research on my own church and board speeches. I rather loved the 19th Century monthly The Liberal Preacher. Many of those sermons were smarter and harder hitting than modern ones. I also have judged UU sermons for the annual Skinner Award; fortunately there were always deserving ones in a UUA-wide contest.

My prejudices aside, Farley’s collection is full of good ones. I heartily recommend it for your own reading and as a gift for ministers you know.

 

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Freedom of Peek

March 5th, 2014 No comments »

With mixed thoughts, I see that MA’s high court ruled today that perverts on the subway can legally take upskirt pix. (The news broke on Universal Hub, here. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is here.  )

Of course, doing so is intrusive, tacky, and and, well, sort of, some kind of assault.

Sure, you can state the all too obvious — women ought to wear underwear, whether they do or not, they should keep their legs together if they wear a skirt or dress. Most do. Too many don’t. I don’t want to see flashes or swathes of underpants of women or men.

Yet, what is it that seems to excite so many? Why are there websites devoted to upskirt images? Why would anyone watch a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show? Why is lingerie the, if you pardon, butt of so many comedy routines? Why do women as well as men fixate on bras and panties?

Truth be told, I remember in early puberty being turned on by men’s magazines in barber shops and plain old catalogs showing women déshabillé. That was the euphemism for in your underwear. Back then, a movie was really risqué if an actress appeared in underwear, without the dress covering the clothing that in fact covered their prurient parts.

Even today, there cultures and subcultures titillated not by the actual body parts, rather the garments that hide them. For example, Japanese press and literature frequently alludes to men’s fascination with and hope for glimpses of underpants.

As I began dating, I quickly learned to favor and choose the real over the fantasy. Is that all this fetish is about?

Even if the crotch clickers with cellphones don’t grow up and out of their fixation, even it the SJC says that’s legal, you’d hope that the targeted women and the other passengers would at least call them out.  That might stop them…unless they are into public humiliation.

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Onion Skins and Snow

February 5th, 2014 No comments »

heavypine We got a pretty solid snow, about 9 or 10 inches of the heavy stuff. It was a three-man clearing job. I did the front steps, front walk, sidewalk and the four Hellish feet where the bastard plow operators got their jollies packing us in. Ho ho.

The sons are at the driveway now…no mean feat.

emachinesnowI had cleared the upper deck and back stairs, feeling righteous. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the path to the lower compost bin. Sure, both levels of the deck get more snow, fallen, drifted and blown than the yard gets. However, this was a first when Nature goofed on the Earth Machine.

It was buried.

So it was digging down and far-flinging heavy snow off the deck, off the stairs, to create a path to the compost bin. Then it was humping off snow over the brick and grass to get to the huge marshmallow that hid the Earth Machine. Finally, it was carefully clearing the lid to allow access.

I’d been clever putting in our two compost bins. There’s one in the back that we use in warm weather. It’s a nice little walk with our stainless steel bucket of vegetative matter topped off with warm water. Then come late fall, we can retrieve rich soil for the fall prep of the flower and vegetable beds.

The one close to the house is for the winter. It’s close to the kitchen, so that after snows, we don’t need cross-country skis to dump our rotting veggy and fruit parts. This time though, the snow, at least figuratively, laughed at me.

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Pope’s Pond Action

January 28th, 2014 No comments »

 

popesskaters

In retro, and even rural, play, teen guys were out of Pope’s Pond in Milton this afternoon. With their pucks and sticks, plus a snow shovel to sort of clear the very rough ice (no Zamboni),

I started out at the other end, where Pine Tree Brook was running fast, as in unfrozen water. The lads reported they’d been on the ice for 40 minutes or so and it was very solid. They admitted the surface was quite rough, but they were happy just to be out there. The temp was between 10 to 15, with a wind chill of maybe 0, so no thaw was in the works.

Around the bend, my personal version of the great white whale briefly appeared. It is the great blue heron instead and my obsession is in getting a decent photograph of it, not murdering it for revenge.

popesheron

I’ve seen him a couple of times previously and I didn’t have a camera at all. Today, I had one…in a jeans pocket…but he still got the better of me. This distant, fuzzy snap was the best I could do in pulling out the camera, pushing the on button, waiting for the lens and pointing. He seemed to have seen me at the same time and less than a second after this rushed, unfocused shot, he was gone between the trees.

He’s a big one and I really want a good shot. This is the third time I saw him there out of maybe 30 hikes.

I’ll be back. He fooled me today; he only has been by the brook fishing in warm weather.  The water can’t have been much above 32F.

From now on, not only will have a camera just in case, but I’ll have it out. Maybe I’ll waste some battery by activating the camera before I start the Pine Tree Brook Trail. If he’s ready, the least I can do is show the same respect.

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Landscape Flames

January 26th, 2014 No comments »

Putting the lie to the stereotyped drabness of Boston winters are a few gaudy treasures in the arboretum. I trotted the hills — so you don’t have to — in the gelid, windswept park.

As it turns out, the Arnold folk put a little but not too much effort in year round color as points of interest. There are areas lined with dogwood bushes, drab when the longer-lived flowering shrubs are showing off, but striking in their yellow or red branches when leaves are gone. Otherwise, red is the color that dominates above the snow and in the bitterest wind.

If you’re up for it, and be aware there were joggers in shorts with purplish legs, you can find lots of spots of color on the main road (Meadow becomes Bussey Hill becomes Valley becomes Hemlock Hill).

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

Tall European cranberry bushes are flush with fruit. ecranberry
virburnum Several varieties of viburnum maintain
their berries.
Another of the many colorful viburnum bushes. viburnum
sumac Bussey Hill has staghorn sumac at the top,
along with vistas of Boston Skyline and
peeks of the Blue Hills.
A few bushes, like this Poiret barberry, have delicate fruit. barberry
highbush Beyond berries, the branches and canes
of some, like the Highbush blueberry,
expose colorful bark when the leaves
have fallen.
Some of the most intense colors were on the dogwood bushes, here in red… redcornus

yellowcornus
…and a little subtler in yellow.
Some of the less splashy visual include the Korean Yodogawa azalea, which look like star anise on the bush. yamazalea

witchhazel
A delicate delight was the Ozark
witch hazel’s flowers.

 

 

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Oh, the Oreo Horror!

January 18th, 2014 No comments »

In a tongue-in-dessert-filled cheek mass mailing, JP Licks reports it needs an alternative to the 100% (but trademarked) Oreo® adjective used in its ice creams and cakes that use, well, that cookie as an ingredient. The beloved Jamaica Plain, Boston, caffeine and sugar palace calls for suggestions to replace the accurate adjective.

Send ideas to Oreo@jplicks.com by Wednesday, January 22th.

The weaselly winner gets a quart of JP Licks ice cream and a tour of the facility from the boss, Vince Petryk.

 

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