Tuesday, March 29, 2016


When we moved into our current house, more than ten years ago, my aunt from Maine bought us a bouy bell.  It was a cool gift, a deep, clangy chime that reminded me of summers in Kennebunk Beach when I was growing up.  We hung it from the barn, over our garden, for a while, until it fell (did it fall?), and moved into the barn, where it accumulated wasp nests and rust.

We don't have much we don't need, but we are systematically ridding ourselves of the few things we own that fall into that category.  I'd taken out the bell, thinking that perhaps I'd move it, when I realized I didn't much like the sound of it after all.  Too clangy.  Might piss off the neighbors.

I've sold some things online, but mostly I've Freecycled things, hoping that they find another home and new life.  Sometimes I wonder about Freecyclers, hoping that they don't just go try to sell my stuff on eBay, dumpster diving like the big white truck that drives slowly up and down the streets of town on the night before garbage day.

I decided to Freecycle the bell, hoping for the best.  I got a lot of responses soon after I'd posted it; the chime is, after all, still working just fine, and it's a $70 item.  I looked at the list of willing takers, wondering if I'd made the right choice, reassuring myself that no, I didn't need the bell, and that the right thing to do was to give it away to someone who would love it.

But because of my ongoing misgivings about the intentions of people who pick things up for free, I decided to Google the people in line.

(I have mad Googling skillz.  I am not ashamed to own this; I could probably make money as a Google-stalking-private-detective.  My real gain from years of doctoral studies.)

Some of the people claimed ties to Maine, or to Kennebunkport, telling me that the bell would feed their nostalgia.  Some people told me where the bell would live.  The first person to respond hadn't said much, though, and I was hesitant to let him claim it.

Turns out he is trying to bring new life to a theater in a town I used to frequent, where flooding had completely wiped out local businesses, and an immigrant community had moved in, just barely making ends meet.  He staged a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," and was working on "Assassins," to debut in May.

I wrote back to him, telling him where he could pick up the bell, and asking whether he was indeed the same person I'd found.  He affirmed, delighted that I'd found him (surprisingly not creeped out at all, which most sane people should be, I guess).  We had a brief correspondence about pickup arrangements, and some time this afternoon, the bell disappeared from my driveway.

In my inbox: a short note, thanking me again, and offering me two comped tickets to "Assassins" in May.

Which, though perhaps a more short-lived pleasure, I think I'll enjoy a whole lot more than the bell.  I'm glad it found a new home, for both of our sakes.

Have you ever Freecycled something?  Or picked up something free?  Or participated in a parallel economic system that seems to work better than you'd expect it to?
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Thursday, March 24, 2016


From a young age, my daughter has insisted: I want to do it myself.

My son, somewhat less adept at expressing himself, despite impressive verbal skills, also demonstrates stubborn self-reliance.

I've encouraged this independence; it's in our best interest to raise children to be self-sufficient, to be people who can make themselves a meal, put clothes in the laundry, wash dishes, eventually go to work take care of themselves, making a contribution to the world.

But I worry, sometimes, about tempering the message.  About teaching them about accepting help, or even better, seeking it out on their own terms, making help part of what it means to be independent.

In case it's not obvious, I am terrible at asking for help.  I like doing things my way, having control. I have a plan, and I carry it out.  It took me months before I finally called a therapist to get help for what, by that point, was crushing depression and anxiety.

The irony, of course, is that this is what I do all day long: connect students with help, get them to consider help, help them to accept help.  Hypocrisy at its best.

S. has been traveling again, and the child care situation is, as usual, challenging.  While I pay for care from 6:30 (for I.) or 7:30 (for N.) until 6:00 (for N.) or 6:30 (for I.), it's simply not enough when I need to drive from work to get them, not really great to leave early four days in a row during one of the busiest times of the year.

I have called people to help me pick up the kids quite a bit over the past two years now.  It doesn't get easier.  Sometimes I start with my mother, who sometimes says things like "it will be difficult because I'm supposed to get the bagels for book group" (which drives me bananas; I'd rather she tell me she just doesn't want to do it).  Sometimes I start with a stay at home dad friend who I am convinced is a superhero in disguise.  Sometimes I ask our friend down the block, who tells me how much she likes helping us, though she has two small children of her own and a traveling husband to contend with, too.

The other day, my colleague (whom I like a lot, and who I find generally quite kind and considerate) commented to me that he raised a child without the help of any grandparents.  I felt embarrassed at my neediness, at first, and then a little upset: how could he compare his situation with mine?  Good for him for not needing help.  Did he spend $40K/year in child care, which still didn't cover enough hours in the week?  Did his colleagues encourage him to take flex time, but then also send the message that presence after hours was actually important after all? Did his spouse travel for days at a time each month?  The answer to all of these questions, of course, is no.

I worry, when we move, that I'll lose this village, that I won't know how to make friends again, that they won't want to be friends, that I'll forget how to ask for help, a skill and a grace that has taken me so long to learn.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Original Post

For Lease, reads the sign in the window, in bold sans serif font above the large white phone number of some commercial real estate company.

But who would lease the post office, I wonder?

It was enough of a surprise when our post office downtown decided that it was going to subdivide, keeping only half of its current building, closing the other half and selling it.  They installed a door where a large pane window used to be on the front of the building, poured a concrete walkway that zigzagged unnecessarily across the lawn, and tacked up a laminated reminder on the old door that "patrons should please use the front entrance."  As if there were now any other.

But when the second post office down the street from where I work closed, too, making me wonder whether they'd preserve the mural I'd studied so often, standing in line, I felt a pang of anxiety.  What did it mean, the closing of the post office?

Turns out that post office is going to become a brewpub.  Though at least they're preserving the mural.

When I was much younger, I used to write letters.  I had (still have) a wax seal with my first initial, and wax that I'd melt letting the whole stick catch fire momentarily as it dropped across the seal.  I sent small packages with bracelets, coupons, all sorts of things.  I wrote away for free stuff, enclosing self-addressed stamped envelopes that would come back to be with pamphlets and maps and plastic. I loved, and still love, the inky, papery smell of the post office.  It's the same no matter where I go, no matter which town I'm in.

I guess Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram have replaced the post office.  I hope the brewpub gathers friends just as paper letters once connected us.  Maybe Jeff Bezos' drones will fulfill my need for mystery packages.  Somehow, though, I feel like I'm being robbed of something magical.
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Monday, March 21, 2016

Thaw. (with Slow Cooker Lentil Soup)

The snow had left powdered-sugar dust on the grass, on the daffodils.  A thin crust of crystal, dazzling in the sunlight, invitingly crunchy, like water ice.

I wanted to stop and take pictures on the way, here, and here, and here: the alpacas, clustered together, moving slowly across the frozen field; the branches, bending, touching, bridging across the road; all of the world captured, for a moment, in thaw.  I can't seem to capture any of it well with an iPhone5, though, which is all I use for photography any more, simply because I have it with me, and because the big beautiful camera doesn't behave for me. The phone camera thinks it's smarter than I am.

It has been a strange winter here in the Northeast: first nonexistent, then relentless, then February (which is like relentless but worse, for so many reasons), then a weekend of spring, then snow again. But finally, now, when I sit in the sun, it feels less ephemeral, more determined, stronger, like maybe it will stick around for a while.

A blogger friend says she misses my voice.  I miss my voice, too.  Part of me wonders if I have lost it entirely.  But also why I should bother looking for it, and whether I might want to find it here, out in public.  Why not just write for an audience of one, where I worry less about judgment by the people I know in real life.  The answer, of course, is like the phenomenon of thaw: without the warmth and sunlight that can only come from the world, the plants are perfectly happy to stay hibernating.

Let the lamp affix its beam.

Welcome spring.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
This is what's in our kitchen: a hodgepodge of winter beans and root vegetables, with spring greens and new garlic.  Sort of like thaw in a bowl.

3 medium carrots, chopped (or 4 small or 2 large)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large clove shallot, chopped
2 cups dry green lentils (rinsed)
8 cups Vegetable stock
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bag of baby spinach
1 1/2 teaspoons balsalmic vinegar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Chop carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and shallots in the food processor.  Place chopped vegetables into crockpot along with lentils, stock, canned tomatoes, bay leaf and dried thyme. Cover with lid and set cooking time (4 Hours on high or 8 Hours on low). When cooking time is up, add spinach, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and ground cumin. Place lid back on and let sit covered for fifteen additional minutes before serving.

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