December 23, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside.

Freshly Fallen

I guess I haven’t wandered by here in a while,
and so much for occasional short entries. Maybe over the holidays I’ll be able to do that, because I certainly haven’t been able to do so this past week or so.

The big talk of the last several days has been the weather. Since Sunday two weeks ago, we have seen pretty much every variety of weather that one might typically experience in late New England fall, giving credence to that old adage, attributed to Mark Twain ‘If you don’t like the weather in (fill in the blank) wait ten minutes”. We started off the week with subfreezing weather and a dusting of snow, or first of the season, that was followed by a couple of days of warm but very windy weather reaching nearly 60°F. just when we were getting used to that, the temperature dropped again into the low 40’a and we had 3 days of drenching rain (and I cleaned the downspout again this time it finally took). To the north and west of here the temperatures dropped to subfreezing while the rain continued to fall, resulting in a treacherous ice storm, with the rain freezing on trees wires, cars and roads, making travel dangerous and taking down power lines all over the region leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Some of these people are still with out power almost a week later.

The ice storm was followed by another short warm spell with temps again getting into the 60’s. It was small relief for those who were suffering from the ice storm in that as it thawed all the ice on the trees branches, some of them sprung back from the reduced weight of the ice and took more power lines out. Here in the city, that wasn’t an issue, and we had a couple days of sunny warm weather. We got right back to the usual wintry fare. We woke to about an inch of snow on the ground today but as the sun came up the falling snow turned to sleet and freezing rain. You've gotta love New England.

Addendum: I started writing this a few days ago and got sidetracked with other things. Since then we have had a double whammy of winter storms. As winter started Friday so did the winter weather with a snowstorm blowing in a little afternoon (fortunately, after the completion of Yule Fest at the boys school.) It snowed pretty much for 48 hours; the first portion dropped about 8 inches over night and into Saturday morning. The pace of the snow letup after that but continued to fall until Sunday evening, adding another 4 inches on top of what was already there. I was able to get the car dug out for our Saturday night outing to see Ritchie Havens at the MFA. The additional snow thru Sunday made the side streets more impassable, so our planned shopping trip was made by via the T. It was not a bad idea over-all but it slowed the travel portion of the trip considerably both due to the weather and the fact that far fewer trains run on Sunday than do in weekdays. By Sunday the temp had dropped in the 20’s and the snow had changed from fluffy places to little wind driven ice balls, which made the trek to and from the subway unpleasant to say the least.

That takes us to Monday when the sun came out but the temps are now in the teens at night and 20’s in the daytime. The sidewalks are now slick with ice. (I should have shoveled one more time after we got back from shopping.) And there are huge ice cycles forming on the west side of the house where the sun hits it during the day and melts the snow on the roof. I dug out the car (again) and shoveled out a space for it down the street away from the house. The last time we had big ice cycles form one of them broke loose and was launched by the slope of the mansard roof square into the windshield of the car breaking it. I don’t need that again. It is supposed to warm up to the 40s on Christmas Eve, and maybe rain. Just imagine the mess that is going to make.
Waiting for the sun.

Waiting for a plow.

December 8, 2008

Catching up

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, life has been pretty busy in the previous couple of weeks, and I hardly had time to sit and write, let alone do much else. The last event of the term was last night, another dance / variety show presented by a student organization. Classes end Monday. So now that life has calming down a little I have time again and I thought I would go back and revisit some of the things that have happened while I was too busy.

It is now a quiet Sunday afternoon, and I am sitting here watching the first snow of the season falling, the forecast if for just a light dusting up to as much as an inch. It is definitely a sign of the season to come, but as we already had a few inches on the ground at this time last year, I am not feeling too bad about it.

So let me see if I can remember a few of the significant events of the last couple weeks.

Several months ago I had posted a video on Youtube of the boy and his guitar classmates performing a piece called Tutu Tango at their spring guitar recital. It is a fun piece that they really like to play and they were dead on for the performance. I posted it mostly for a family and a few friends to see, and I think it had a total of maybe 35 hits after 5 months. A couple weeks ago, I got a Youtube email that some one had saying that I had a comment on the video, and an email in my Youtube inbox. The email and the comment were from the composer of the Tutu Tango, one Derek Hasted (fortunately I had credited him in the video when I posted it), commenting on how much he enjoyed the performance. In addition he also posted a link to the video on the website of the Hampshire Guitar Orchestra in Hampshire England for which he is the musical director. So the video of the boys went ‘viral’ and in the course of a couple of days is suddenly had over 250 hits. Not spectacular, but not bad for a classical guitar video featuring four 13 year old boys. I let their guitar teacher and the parents of the other players know what had taken place, and they were all thrilled to have been noticed by the composer.

I posted the video in my old Yahoo360 blog, but here is it again for all my new readers… (A little joke there.)

I think that I mentioned that the boy was in the school musical, Into the Woods, in which he played the Baker. I did manage to find time to see the show between all the events that I had to tend to at work. I was a ‘proud dad’ by the end of the performance. The role of the Baker is big role and a tough one to play and he did an admirable job. He had complained in the past about only getting small roles in the plays, so this was his big chance to shine, and he really stepped up to the challenge. Not only did he have to sing a couple of solos, but there is also a love song duet with the bakers wife in which they must sing to one another at the same time that they are holding hands, ending in a final embrace. I must say that both performers pulled that off well, which can be difficult for some adults, let alone 13 year olds. The two of them managed to reach a level of reality that seem to show real emotion and affection. Bravo to them both. The boy definitely knows how to find the ‘moment’ as it is called, where character and motivation come together to give a performance its reality.

Next play up is a Midsummer’s Night Dream he has his eye on several roles in that. There is Puck of course, as well as Oberon, and Bottom, he could probably have his pick of roles, I think his Puck is tops on the list followed by Bottom. We will see how it shakes out; auditions are this week.

As I mentioned, that previous couple of weeks were very busy at work with several performances each weekend, most of them are student variety / dance shows, and frankly they all start to look and sound the same. The one event that did stand out was the music department’s gospel choir concert. It is notable not only for the great music, but also for the shear size and power of the group. It has grown dramatically in the last couple years from about 90 students to over 200. Part of the rehearsal earlier in the day was spent just getting people on and off stage quickly. The theatre capacity is just over 600, and the gospel concert always sells out, with little back stage space available the singers have to enter through the aisles very quickly as to not create a safety hazard. Fortunately that all went well, and the concert was a big success.
A Packed Stage
So that is the highlights from the previous couple of weeks. We are back to normal life such as it is, and I will resume posting and pissing and moaning as before. I think I will try to do shorter entries, with single topics and see if that works better.

December 1, 2008

I have been neglecting this blog of late. Last week I was hitting the crest of the wave of all the student performances in the theatre and it was keeping me late at work in the evening and as a consequence I wasn’t getting the requisite 5 hours of sleep a night. That has now passed, and I think I better put in some effort here.

We had a very pleasant and somewhat quiet Thanksgiving. The holiday actually stretched over the better part of 5 days for some of us. Father in Law came up from New York City, as is the tradition here for the last 5 or 6 years. He arrived on Tuesday evening, as Wednesday was ‘Grandparents Day’ at the boy’s school. The school invites the grandparents to the student’s classes and has special presentations for them. The boy enjoys it, and I think he likes the surprise when they see his grandfather. Although the boy resembles his grandfather, he doesn’t have grandfathers darker Native American / African American complexion. This was the source of some embarrassment for one of his teachers, who assumed that the boys’ grandfather was connected to his seatmate who is African American. The teacher was passing out completed assignments to the students, and suggested that the boy’s grandfather should check out the seatmates work. There was a flash of realization the teachers part that he had made a bit of a faux paux, he laughed a bit smile and apologized to all involved. No offence was taken, he is a good teacher, and it was an easy mistake to make given the circumstances. Father in law had great fun in relating the story later when he and the boy returned to the house.
Grandparent’s day was a half-day event, so I took it upon myself to take the day off, and Mrs. had a short day as well. So following the festivities we decided to get the jump on Black Friday and make a purchase at Best Buy.

Some time ago Mrs. had decided that the boy needed a new computer even though he has two on his desk. One is an old iMac that he uses primarily to watch movies, and the other is a slightly aging windows machine that has become infected numerous times with malware and god knows what, and has taken far too much time and energy to be cleaned up. With this in mind Mrs decided that he needed a Mac laptop in so much as we know that Mac are great computers, and his school supplies Macbooks for the kids to use in study hall etc. Now buying a new computer is not in our budget at this time, but somehow Mrs. had talked her father into purchasing one for the boy as a Christmas gift. We did our research and found that Best Buy was having a one-day only sale and they were knocking $100 of the price. The best part was that one could order the machine online at any give store that had them in stock and pick it up later in the day. And that we did. Best Buy is always an adventure, I find it to be total sensory overload, but of the sort that is addictive. We made our primary transaction, and then wandered the store looking at all of the stuff that we would never buy but marvel at the technology. I admit that I scoped out the 5.1 channel tuner amplifiers. We have had a wide screen TV for some time that is HD compatible, and it is on my list to one day up-grade the sound system. Pant, drool, you know how is it with boys and their toys.

The big debate was whether to wait ‘til Christmas to give the computer to the boy, or give it while Grandfather was in town. When we arrived home I went upstairs to my office to put things away, and when I returned to the living room, I found the decision had been made, the box was open and the boy’s eyes were a-glow. This would be the way we would see the boys face for pretty much the rest of the weekend a-glow and facing the computer screen.

Thanksgiving day was quiet and as is the usual case. Other than FiL neither of us have family close by so the holidays are usually pretty low key. (One of the things that brought us to Boston besides jobs was the fact that Mrs.’ sister and her family loved here, unfortunately they moved after we were here for a couple years.) We had a small 9lbs turkey, and a variety of dishes that reflected the Native American culture, including the ever-popular succotash. For turkey dressing Mrs. improvised using a mix of wild, white and brown rice and dried cranberries for a very tasty concoction. My contribution was the rolls, made from scratch using potato dough. They didn’t rise as much as they should have, but they were still tasty. The day itself was pretty uneventful we didn’t remember to watch the parade, and none of us are sports fans so it wasn’t football and chip day either. We just mostly hunkered down and watched the rainfall. What is it with rain in the holidays anyhow? I have to admit that I miss the big family gatherings on Thanksgiving, although it has been many years since I have been to one. As A kid I remember gatherings on my mothers side of the family that involved all her siblings and their children. We would rent a hall and there would be upwards of 50 people or more.

In spite of the bad weather and the bad economy we have much to be thankful for this year. I am most thankful that we have elected a president who seems to want to do something for the working people of this country, and get the country back on track nationally and internationally. I feel like the last 8 years have been something of a bad dream. Hopefully the dawn is coming soon. We have a roof over our heads and good jobs and a family that loves and cares for one another, after that, the rest is gravy.

The rest of the holiday weekend passed at a pretty leisurely pace. I had vague plans of getting in some culture, like going to a museum of something, but weather and general inertia played against us, plus we couldn’t get the boy’s face out of the new computer. We did celebrate Black Friday by doing our monthly Costco run. We only splurged on a few items; the boy did manage to convince grandfather to purchase him a game for his Wii however. Come to think of it the Wii was grandfathers gift to the boy last Christmas! Maybe grandfather is becoming an enabler. Hmm. So between the Wii game and the new computer, there was almost no way to get the boy out of the house.

The boy’s friend from school did rescue us by inviting him to go to the movies on Saturday afternoon, so we did have a few hours of peace and quite with no television and no computer. I think we just blessed out on silence and privacy, grandfather having left for NY earlier in the day. Rain began to fall late Saturday night and continued unabated through the next day, which kept us pretty much hunkered down in the house all day. That isn’t a bad thing, but it doused my hopes of a getting a little ‘culture’ and I had hoped. Oh well, maybe next year.!!

November 21, 2008

Alejandro Escovedo Again!

The one thing I did leave out of last week’s entry was that fact that we went to see Alejandro Escovedo again last Tuesday night. This time he was performing at the Museum of Fine Arts as opposed to the Paradise Rock Club where we saw him last Summer. Befitting the more staid atmosphere of the museum, this performance was an acoustic trio contrasting the full tilt boogie 6-piece play so loud your eardrums bleed rock band that he had with him last time. The latter venue did allow us to take the boy this time, as the club was an 18 and over establishment. I also sprung for an extra $5 on each ticket to get seating in the ‘FOH’ that put us in the 2nd row just off center. Perfect!

I have to admit that before the concert I was concerned that the trio format would somehow be less than the performance that we saw / heard last summer. I need not have worried even with just Alejandro, guitarist David Pulkingham and violinist Susan Voelz, they were still a force to be reckoned with. No ear bleeding stuff, but in some ways reducing the ensemble to three actually brings out the subtly of his compositions. Both Voelz and Pulkingham are very accomplished musicians and their ability to improvise and weave musical lines thru his tunes I find amazing. At one point in the concert Alejandro referred to Voelz as Jimi Hendrix on Violin.

With seats the 2nd row seats we were in heaven. They played a variety of songs from his different records. One particular song Everybody Loves Me (But I Don’t Know Why) as he recorded it comes off as a short angry punk influenced number. The version in the concert took that idea and expanded into a 6 or 7-minute amazing interplay between instruments wit the guitar and violin trading passages back and forth with incredible intensity. It brought me to tears. The rest of the concert was no less exceptional. I kept glancing over at the boy to see what his reaction was, and it was obvious that he was enjoying it too. They played for nearly two hours, finishing off the night by unplugging and wandering through the house stopping at different locations to sing and tell stories. One of those songs was Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople ‘s I Wish I was Your Mother. I wish that we had been closer for that one.

We left the show exhausted, but I for one wanted more. I am not sure what it is that binds one to certain musicians. I find that after 15 years or more of listening to his music, he is still on heavy rotation in my music set. But a day doesn’t go by without me listening to something of his. There are too many elements involved to try to define what it is. So it surprises me to go to his shows and see only a few hundred people in attendance and empty seats in the house. Don’t people know what an artist and a treasure this guy is? Is his music so far off the mainstream that they just don’t get it? Maybe it is better this way, those of us who know his music are special and we have something unique to share among ourselves. And the rest of the unannointed and unwashed are just missing out.

Alejandro links:

Here is a review for a concert of his that took place a few days before the one we saw. (the Boston papers couldn’t be bothered to review it.) it catches much of the flavor and energy of the show and the writer is having a good time too.

Tulip Frenzy- A commentary on Music

There are a number of performance videos on you tube of Alejandro and company, but I couldn’t find any in the trio format. However I did find an audio link. This is a version of Everybody Loves Me from a concert recorded in April of 2007 at Concerts in Studio in Freehold, NJ as performed by the trio, it is very similar to what we heard and saw.

It may take a moment to load, please be patient.

If you want to hear the whole concert it is here.

On the other hand, I did find this video on you tube from the concert we saw last summer at the Paradise. I think the person must have stepped on my toes while taking this. The video quality is a little poor, but the audio is good, and it still captures the intensity and interplay of the musicians.

Put You Down

November 18, 2008

Who are these Roxbury turkeys?

As seen while taking the boy to school Monday morning. This little bird was strutting it's stuff in the middle of Highland Street in Roxbury about 5 blocks from the house. I had to wait a couple minutes before it decided to strut over to the side of the road so that I could pass.

It seems that there are a number of turkeys moving into the cities these days, are they getting good deals on foreclosed homes?

November 14, 2008

November Nonsense

I am not sure where to start here, it has been another full week, and in spite of my promises to myself I can’t seem to generate more than an entry a week.

I supposes that I can’t let this entry pass without saying how utterly overjoyed I was with the presidential election. I think that Obama has a level of intelligence and ability not to mention charisma that we have not seen in a president in a long time. He has some enormous challenges ahead of him what with the economic situation and the wars on tow fronts, but I think he has the ability to solve those problems. It is going to take time and sacrifice on all our part, but I think it can be done.

It is very much late fall here in New England while the weather has been pretty nice generally speaking, very little rain, moderate temperatures and no snow so far, the landscape is starting to take on that bleak gray on black look. Here are a couple of pictures to give you the feeling. These were taken at Jamaica Pond a spot I pass each day while taking the boy to school. I think that little island is becoming my muse.

These were taken roughly 24 hours apart.

I hope that it isn’t going to be a long winter, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I am used to that dark gray look and the short days, but at least there spring comes early the crocus will come up in late February, and there are distinct signs of spring by mid March, not so In New England – you can push those events back at least a month. I remember my first winter in Connecticut. It was April, and I was still waiting for the Crocus as I recall. Since then of course I spent 15 years in Michigan; lets talk about long cold winters!! 25 degrees below zero F is not my best friend. I like to joke that we move back to New England for the warmer winters. There is some truth in that in part, the winters are a little warmer, but that just means that the snow is sloppier, and spring comes no earlier here than it does there.

Construction on the houses behind us is proceeding at a rapid pace; they completed framing in the second floor on the units nearest to us yesterday. That is a goodbye to the early morning sun streaming into the kitchen. I don’t think that they are going any higher; bit there is still a peaked roof to go on them. While there were backfilling the foundation last week the Bobcat operator clipped our back fence breaking two of the cross members and a couple of the vertical members. I noticed it as I was taking the boy to school in the morning, and pointed it out to the operator. While I was delivering the boy Mrs. went out with her best lawyer face on and talked to the foreman on the project. The fence was repaired by that evening. I was happy to see that they were trying to be good neighbors. The whole project makes me feel a little melancholy, but perhaps it is jut the time of the year. It also make me think of a children’s book about a little house that was built in the country, and gradually everything grows up around it until it is surrounded by the big city among skyscrapers; lost and forgotten. Eventually someone finds the house and moves it out to the country much like it had been originally.

When we first moved in the house in spring of 2001, it was the only house on the block. The lots on both sides of the house were vacant, and parking was never a problem. We had our own little spot on the street next to the house. Since that time three – 3 family units have been constructed across the street, and now these two 2 family units which will have their own parking on the lot, but that means curb cuts for those driveways, and you can be assured that who ever lives there is unlikely to have only one car. Soon we are going to like any other neighborhood in Boston soon, have to circle the block to find an open space.

At one time this was a densely packed neighborhood until the 1970’s when Roxbury became a no-mans land, and many houses were abandoned and either burned or torn down. As they were excavating the site for these two latest projects one could see the remnants of the foundation of the houses that had been on the lot previously

All in all it is a good thing to see the neighborhood coming back to life. I don’t want to sound like I am complaining, but it is becoming a very different neighborhood that it was when we moved here.

November 5, 2008

Halloween and other fun.

The weekend really started early Friday afternoon as I left work to get home early to get the boy ready for Halloween. We successfully recreated and improved his makeup from the previous week. He looked scarier than ever. We gathered the neighbor kids and parent to trek out to another neighborhood to do the deed. We have been going to Hyde Park to trick or treat since the boy was in 2nd grade as his best friend from the Indian summer camp lives out there. We have just continued the tradition, and coincidentally the neighbors have also gone there because a relative lives in the neighborhood. It is a little more affluent part of Boston, and there are many more houses than in our neighborhood, and ripe for the picking.

Mrs. went along this time for a change; usually she stays at hone and waits for the 12 kids who do knock on our door. (I think they are all out in Hyde Park like us.) It was a warm and clear night, perfect for trick or treating, the kids ran ahead while the parents followed at a leisurely pace. The boys costume got lots of comments. At one particular house that does a whole ‘exhibit’ in the garage, and is populated by the residents dressed as witches and various goblins they actually wanted to recruit the boy for their display. He was flattered but the call of fee candy was stronger. Surprisingly the kids wore out before the parents did. And of course they declared their exhaustion at the point that we were furthest from the car. We meandered back stopping at a few promising houses along that way. The kids were satisfied with their take, and I swear that the boy scored close to 5 lbs of candy. We all went home exhausted. Later the boy fell asleep on the floor in front of the television while Mrs. and I relaxed with vodka martinis.

Saturday morning dawned with both Mrs. and the boy suffering migraine headaches. Could it have been an overdose of Vodka and chocolate respectively? I am not allowed to comment on either of those concepts. But suffice to say that we skipped the grownups karate session. We got the boy there, but he claimed to be in too much pain to participate and just sat and watched.

Following karate, he had a birthday party to attend at a local rock climbing gym. He said he was still suffering from the headache, but thought that he could work through it for the sake of the birthday boy. What a trouper. He has been to this particular gym before and is pretty good at climbing the walls and is relatively fearless. We stuck around for a bit and watched and chatted with other parents of the attendees. We are all in awe of our respective offspring at how they have grown and changed in the last year or so. At least one parent who had not seen the boy in a while hardly recognized him. While the rock climbing continued, we slipped out and did our monthly Costco run, making it back just in time to pick him up and head home.

Groceries put away, I had to head back to work for an event in the theatre. The annual Step Show competition sponsored by the African Student Association is the first big student event of the term. Step show groups from all over the greater area are invited to compete, and it big event both on campus and off. This year was a little smaller that in the past with only about 10 groups competing. Past years have brought as many as 16 groups and over 200 performers. I was glad for the smaller show this year, it was easier to manage, and having inexperience house managers it made my task easier. As it was the house was full and we went up almost 15 minutes late trying to get everyone in the theatre. Fortunately the producing group was well organized and other than a couple o little problems the evening was nearly flawless. My green staff performed well too. I can tell who the good house managers are going to be. I appreciate it when they can see what needs to be done without asking. The other advantage of the reduced number of groups is that I got out of the theatre earlier that I might have, but it was still midnight when I got home.

Sunday was not a day of rest. They were all the Saturday chores like laundry and house cleaning to catch up on, and while I was doing that and doing my weekly shift in the help desk for my favorite video chat program (the help desk was dead by the way) Mrs. and the boy were helping wit the open house at the boy’s school.

Enough, there is still an election this week, and I am exhausted already.

October 31, 2008

This Weeks Update

The construction work behind the house is progressing at a rapid pace. Fortunately the jackhammer work only went on for a day or two, and they move rapidly to laying the foundation and pouring the walls. In little over a week the transformation has been dramatic, and each day brings dramatic changes. I am going to continue to document the progress in photos, and I suppose I will drop a word or two in this blog as well.

Here is 3 days progress on the unit nearest to us; they started pouring the foundation for the adjacent structure this morning. They are not wasting time.

Foundation forms.
Foundation done

It has been a pretty quiet week at work, I have had a chance to catch up on paper work and get ahead on a few things. That has been a relief. There is just one event this week in the theatre, although a big one I think it is covered well in terms of staff, and the presenting organization has done this for a few years and are organized and ready for the crowds.

Stress items this week. My iMac suddenly boofed the other day. It had been doing a little self shut down thing and then starting up by itself a few weeks back. I did a little maintenance on it and it seemed to be fine. Then suddenly Wednesday morning it did it again but this time didn’t start back up. It tried to but would shut off half way thru the procedure would shut off again. We are blessed (or cursed) with several computers in the house so I was able to go on line to the Apple site and through their help pages determine that it is most likely a bad power supply. I brought it into the shop Thursday morning and they said ‘$225, we will call you when it is done.’ In the mean time I have been using an aging (1997) Mac that I have on my desk but is mostly best thought of as a boat anchor. It is barely usable; most of the current technology has left it in the dust. I have kept it on my desk mostly when I am testing IM or chat applications. I think it is time to relegate it to the recycle heap when the iMac comes back.

The failure of the iMac also was a signal that we need to seriously look at back-up scenarios when it returns too. When you only had a couple hundred Megs to back up. It was easy, but now that hard drives hold hundred of gigs, it is a more complicated procedure, and one at which we have been lax.

Stress item #2; we have been trying to refinance our home for months now. We made the mistake of getting one of those ARMS with a home equity line of credit 5 years ago, and the ARM is schedule to reset here any time. It made a lot of sense at the time, rates were low, housing prices were going up, and we needed cash to improve the house. Who would have ever thought things would get as bad as they are now. Can you think of a worse time to try to refinance? It has been a very frustrating process. And we have not been getting answers that we like. This week one lender with whom we have been working since August told us that it was a ‘no go’. I have been loosing a little sleep over this issue, and my stomach has not settled in days. We are not in danger of foreclosing when the rates go up, but our monthly budget is going to take serious hit. I am not sure what our next step is here.. I’ll be thinking about it.

Last weeks update part 2

(As usual I am running days behind schedule, this time complicated by computer failure-- my iMac blew it's power supply and is in the shop.)

I woke to the sounds of construction out back Thursday morning. The actual work had not begun, but the heavy trucks and machinery were lining up preparing for the days work. Promptly at 7:00am the sound of massive jackhammer mounted on the business end of a power shovel broke the morning calm. I was afraid that might happen. When they were building the house across the street that jack hammering went of got weeks before any real construction began. The part of Boston in which we live is called Roxbury, named for the fact that there is a layer aggregate rock that underlies the area. Known as Roxbury puddingstone, it is a conglomerate rock filled with smaller stones that makes it look like an old fashioned pudding with bits of fruit or raisins in it. (It also happens to b the state stone of Massachusetts.)

Needless to say it underlies everything here and any time there is a construction project a fair amount of time and effort is spent removing it. The lot out back at one time had houses on it, and much of the earth that they are removing is old bring and building debris from when ever the house were demolished. I guess that they need to go even deeper than the foundation of those structures. The pounding of the jackhammer, shakes the whole house, it comes up through the foundation and rattles the walls. I can see the cups on the shelves shaking from the vibration, and the cats are entirely confused by it.

I am not sure how much the house or we can take if it continues for any length of time. It may be a long winter.

Thing are picking up at work. As the term progresses, more and more events are coming up on the calendar. Over the last couple weeks I have been hiring and training new staff to replace those I lost last year due to them graduating from the university. The hiring process has been going well, and I have half dozen good candidates. They came in handy this week. Wednesday night was the event of the term I think: a speech on foreign by Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry. It was a late addition to the calendar, the event having been confirmed only the week before. Sponsored by a department on campus, they were ill equipped and undermanned to handle an event of this scale. It was clear by 4:30 when students began filling the lobby for a 6pm event.

Events that are free with no tickets and open general public are my least favorite. There is no way to predict how many people might be attending. We have 600 seats in the theatre and this one was going to be one of those when 800 people want to get in. in addition to that, the presenting organization had a list of 180 ‘guests’ for whom they had reserved seats, but it was not clear how many of those people would actually attend the event. The crush in the lobby got worse, and the presenting departments ushers arrived and were dismissed by them because they were undergrads and not graduate students. They were sent away, and then recalled again when the presenters realized that they needed them. Just a little disorganized? Eventually with the help of the campus police and my three untrained house manager we were able to sort thing out and get the audience in the space in an orderly fashion.

The rest of the evening went well, the speech and lively was interesting and the audience reacted well. I was happy when it was over

The next night was a total yang to the previous nights yin. Intended as a variety show and fundraiser for a campus charity, the organizers missed the boat on marketing, and had a total attendance of 35. It was sad to see, especially since they had worked very hard on the evening and were well organized, other than marketing.

Friday was the Halloween Dance at the boy’s school. I raced home for work and his mother and I teamed up to get him into costume and makeup. The hardest part was getting all his hair under the cheap wig. The latex gills I had made a few days earlier looked pretty well and once he was in full makeup he was pretty frightening looking. We dropped him at the school about 7:15 and them went out to dinner, as is our tradition when he has a night out. We stopped in at our favorite watering hole Doyle’s Café, for burgers and beer. I dropped Mrs. back home picking up the boy at 10pm. he was exhausted but glowing at least as much as one can tell under all the make up. He won 3rd place in the costume contest, loosing out to a blue berry and a Telletubbie but was very pleased nonetheless. I don’t think that he really planned on winning anything. He said that the best part was that no one recognized him at first. That is a sign of a successful Halloween costume. We will make a few adjustments before suiting him up to go out on Halloween night.

A Wraith in the making.

The finished product

October 27, 2008

$25 for Obama

A quick entry here.

As seen on the fence of a house near the boys school.

I had to smile.

October 26, 2008

The Week in Review, Part 1

I managed to get the pantry reassembled; final reconstruction took place Sunday, the paint job followed on Monday and selves were refilled Tuesday after the paint had dried. I ended up painting it the same light olive green that we used for the hallway. I happen to have a spare gallon of the color in semi-gloss, which I had accidentally purchased instead of eggshell. (No returns on specially mixed paints you know) It is a little dark for a closet/ cupboard, but I figure it won’t show dirt as would a light color and I had the paint. Hopefully in the process of rebuilding the pantry I blocked all the mouse entry points, so I wont have them nibbling on the instant oatmeal anymore. Time will tell.

Saturday afternoon we took a field trip over to Cambridge to visit the Boston Costume / the Garment District to shop for Halloween stuff for the boy. It is more of a warehouse than a store that houses both businesses, and it is hard to tell one from the other once you are inside. It is located about 5 blocks from the T-stop, and while there were no signs directing one to the store, it was easy to tell which direction it was from all the shoppers heading back to the T carrying the distinctive pink shopping bags from the store. As one might guess, the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon a couple weeks before Halloween. Never the less, we had a pretty clear idea of what we were looking for, so in spite of a certain amount of browsing we were able to zero in on the important things. The boy decided that he wants to go as a Wraith as featured on Stargate Atlantis. The Wraith is an alien species that feed on humans by sucking the life out of them via a special organ on their hands. Easily identified by their long white/gray hair, pale greenish skin and ancillary nostrils. Their wardrobe usually consists of long coats, usually in black.. Easy ……
A Wraith

In the makeup department we found a cheap silver gray wig and the appropriate makeup colors along with a bottle of liquid latex to build some face appliances from. Both the Mrs. and I have a fair amount of theatrical makeup experience so it really isn’t an issue, and might be a lot of fun. It turns out that the Garment district portion of the store in part a huge vintage clothing store. The 3 of us spread out with a mission in mind and before too long had found some pieces that would work for the boys costume. I admit to getting sidetracked in the men’s 1950’s rayon shirt section for a little while, and Mrs. found a raincoat for herself. Somehow we managed to escape the store in a little over an hour having spent about $100 including the coat for Mrs. you can be sure that I will post some pictures of the final product.

A bit of a surprise this week, construction has started on the long vacant lot behind our house. The lot is about 100-foot square, and has for a couple years been slated as a site for 2- 2 family homes. The project has been floating around for a couple of years, and given the economic situation and the housing glut, I thought the project might have died, but I was wrong, I first noticed spray paint markings on the street and sidewalks last week, and then Monday stakes had been driven in the ground at certain point marking the corners of the structures, by the next day, a power shovel was parked in the lot and on Wednesday they were turning the earth. Then by this morning all the trees had been taken down and foundations dug. I was ambivalent about the trees that were mostly volunteer maples that I would thin every year so that we would get a little sun in the postage stamp back yard. Now with them all gone it feels really exposed.

I am not looking forward to a winter of construction going on next to us. I for you have followed the earlier version of this blog on Yahoo 360, you know that we Endured almost 18 months of construction while 3 - 3 family homes were built across the street, which was followed by 3 months of work while all the utilities buried in the street were replaced.

Some construction photos: Before the digging began.

The first bites.

A view of the back of the house.

October 18, 2008

Being 13

The boy was planning to attend his first all-school dance at a neighboring independent school last night. He had been talking about for a couple of days. So there we were last night about 7:00 pulling up to the school, and suddenly he was getting cold feet saying he didn’t want to go after all. And we were telling him that he should take a chance, that he would have a good time. His mother compared it to riding a roller coaster (which we all love), there is that first big hill, that is frightening as you go up it, but it is very exciting when you crest the top of the hill. He wasn’t buying it. His protest grew louder and more strained and we pulled in the parking and saw the unfamiliar kids streaming in. “Turn around. Go home. I am not going. Mom, please lets just go home, I can’t do this!” We were just about to do just that; there is no point in torturing the boy if he really was that frightened. Just at that moment we arrived at the drop off point, and his mother said, “look in front of us, its Tyler and Arie.” Sure enough, two of his best friends from school were getting out of the car in front of us. From the back seat came, “Stop the car. Unlock the doors, hurry!” And he was out on the sidewalk in a flash.

I have never seen as an abrupt a turn-around in emotions in my life. It must be a part of being 13. His mother and I had a good laugh about and drove off to have a nice dinner at a little Thai-Cambodian restaurant that we like.

We picked him up at 9:30 when the dance was over, and he claims to have had a good time, but he didn’t go into much more detail than that.

Did I mention that he has the Lead in the school musical? he will be playing the Baker in their production of Into the Woods. More on that later, this is a big challenge for him, and he has only had small parts in the past.

October 17, 2008

Back to the ramble

I have been feeling a little sluggish the last few days, not sure if it is the change of season, all the bad financial news or the huge amount of work that needs to be done around the house after the plumbing repair, or a combination of all three. I haven’t even had the urge to do my work outs for a while. I just have had an urge to sit and read and do little else. My favorite time of the day is riding the subway where I can bury myself in my current reading, which happens to be ‘White Night’ by Jim Bucher. High toned stuff huh? It is a fun read, totally escapist stuff.

Not to say that I have been sitting on my butt all week, just that that I feel like I want to.

I was up early Saturday morning to pick up the car after the second repair session of the week, as I was too busy on Friday to pick it up before shop closed. The mechanic is just a short distance from the house, and it was a sunny warm morning so rather than take the T I walked over. It turns out that the lighting was great for a little picture taking. Here are a few shots I took.

Morning over the ball field

Sunlight through the fence

Steps to nowhere

Saturday was taken up with the usual routine items. The adult karate class is fun. It isn’t geared towards gaining rank, so there are no belts. It is more an overview, giving the grown ups a flavor of what the martial art is about. That doesn’t mean that we are sitting around listening to lectures, we are working on moves and stances and practicing punches kicks and blocks and we all manage to work up a sweat. I continue to feel totally uncoordinated. I was never very good in dance classes in college; I couldn’t remember al the steps, and the same thing haunts me here. Fortunately some of the others are in the same boat so I don’t feel so bad. I just wish that the boy wouldn’t sit in the corner of the dojo and laugh at us.

The weather has been beautiful for the better part of two weeks, Saturday we got out and worked with neighbors on cleaning up the triangle across the street. Everyone has been pretty busy of late and the place had gotten over grown. I am the designated mower, which is fine. One of our neighbors jack and a nice Toro mower that he keeps gassed and available, which make the job pretty easy even when the grass is as tall as it had grown. It only took a couple house of work to transform the plot from the vacant lot look to a nice community space again. Speaking of community plot, we got one step closer to taking actually taking possession of it for the community, as it is in fact a vacant lot. The city is requiring that we get the space surveyed and actually get specific about the improvements that we would make. We have a small grant that we got a year or more ago that we can use for that and there is a organization that has landscape architects who do pro-bono work, so this actually may come to fruition.

I spent a good portion of the weekend rebuilding the pantry closet following the previous weekends plumbing repair. I kept a fan running in it for the week and everything was dried well enough to enclose the chase again. I put some fresh insulation along the exterior wall, and rather than use sheet rock, I replaced the wall I demolished with plywood. Figuring that it is not beyond the pale that I may have to get back inside again. It will be a lot easier to remove the plywood, than demolish the wall once more. All that remains to do is paint the pantry closet. We have a large selection of leftover paint from other paint projects so the only issue is choosing a color from among the choices.

The small bathroom on the other side of the chase is another issue all together. That was where the wall was wet from the leaking pipes. Not only was the wall stained and cracked from the leaks, but I also had to cut a hole in it to get access to the pipe where I joined the old pipe to the new. That wall will need to be replaced with sheetrock. The trick will be mating it to the lower part of the wall, which is tiled, and keeping a clean transition with the adjoining walls. That is next after the pantry ..

Speaking of unfinished projects, I can’t seem to get rid of the old cracked pipe. I broke it up into small pieces about 2 to 3 feet long and left it on the curb on garbage day. When I got home from work the garbage and the recycling was gone but the pieces of pipe were still there. Now you have to understand that the garbage trucks pick up everything here. Furniture, box springs, mattresses, old refrigerators, you name it. If you put it out on the curb on garbage day, it will be gone by evening. What is wrong with my little pieces of cast iron pipe? I think I am going to try to fake them out next week and put a chunk in the garbage can rather than laying it on the street. Wish me luck.

October 10, 2008

Peace! Justice ?

I was up way too early today. Wife had a ‘Women’s Breakfast’ that her office was hosting at a local hotel and she had to be there at 5:30am. I found myself driving through the streets of Boston at 5am. (It is surprisingly easy to get around town at that hour.) It was a warm morning for this time of the year, and as I stepped out of the house the scent and calmness of the morning air enveloped me and brought me to age 13 when I had a morning paper route in Seattle. It would be about the same time of the day that I was out then. There is something special about smell of the air in the predawn hour. It is sweet and clean with just a hint of the sea. I just stood still for a moment, taking in that scent and the memories,

It was just a moment though and sweet though it was, the rest of the day proceeded apace. When I pulled the car out to take Mrs. to the hotel, I noticed a pool of engine coolant on the street. After dropping the boy at school it was back to the mechanic with a WTF look on my face having just spent $900 on Monday to have the radiator and adjacent hoses and fittings replaced. Verdict: Water pump, (I had been hearing a funny noise under the hood the last couple days.) Cost $321.

I am a water sign, (cancer), is someone trying to send me a message?

Someone is watching you.

October 6, 2008

How much fun is one person allowed to have ?

I have been having some issues with water lately. Call it karma or call it kozmic, it has been giving me grief on several fronts lately. There is the occasional little leak that appears in the bathroom once a year, and then there are the blocked downspouts that cause the gutters to overflow creating a wall of water along the house during a heavy rain. The gutters are over 20 feet off the ground, and my tallest ladder is 14 feet….

The latest and biggest water problem began to manifest itself a couple of weeks ago in the form of a wet spot appearing on the wall of the little half bathroom off the living room. At first I thought it might be a roof leak, as we had been having a lot of rain the result of a couple of nearly spent hurricane that passed over New England. In a few days the rain stopped, however, the wet spot was increasing in size. The wall in question is an inside wall that backs up to the pipe chase that runs between the basement and the top floor. This is not a good sign! I had my suspicions that something serious was leaking inside the wall, but when I would go to the basement and check at the bottom of the chase, there was no sign of water dripping.

Very strange.

The busy schedule of the last couple weeks, (as chronicled in two blog entries that were never finished and never published), prevented me from doing a deeper exploration. In the meantime, the wet spot was getting larger and wetter.
Finally this past Saturday other than karate in the morning we no other engagements scheduled, and I set myself the task of finding out what the was causing the wet spot and hopefully repairing the problem. Rather than tearing out the wall in the bathroom to get to the chase, I chose instead to go through the end wall of pantry closet in the dining room. This of course meant emptying and disassembling the pantry. This was not a bad thing in itself; there were more than a few discoveries of long forgotten items in the darkest reaches. ‘This expired when?’ The pantry contents were packed in boxes and stacked about the dining room and kitchen. I then proceeded to tear out the end wall of the pantry. The pantry being only 15” deep made the task awkward at best, it seems that I am about 14-1/2” wide. It was obvious that this was not the first time that wall had been breached, while the rest of the walls in the house are lath and plaster, this section was made up of thin planks nailed between the studs that showed evidence of having once had lath attached to them.

Upon opening the wall, I discovered why there had been no dripping water evident downstairs. The chase was filled with blown in cellulose insulation, something we had done shortly after we moved into the house. The insulation was acting like a sponge and was saturated with water. I filled several plastic garbage bags with the soggy insulation and hauled them out of the house.Finally the culprit of the wet wall was revealed. The 110 year old cast iron waste pipe (or stack) that brings the waste water from the bathroom upstairs was heavily rusted and cracked nearly the it’s entire length and a steady stream of water. What a frigging mess!! I always say that when you live in an old house you never know what you are going to find behind the walls.
As found at the bottom of the pipe chase..

A trip to the local Home Depot followed shortly. The supplies, 20 feet of 4” PVC pipe, assorted coupling and joints, PVC cement, plywood for replacing the wall, a roll of insulation, and an assortment of sawsall blades for cutting the old pipe. Total cost just under $120.

The first task back at home was to cut the old pipe out and dispose of it. There was roughly 13 feet of pipe to remove. The pipe consisted of numerous sections that were forever joined as one. I decided that I could take it out in two pieces, cutting it first about midway, and then at the top, removing that section first then disconnecting the lower section in the basement where it joined to modern PVC, and then pulling the lower section up, because it had 3 joints in it in the chase that would not fit through the hole in the floor. Cast iron is difficult to cut at best, and wedged into the end of a narrow closet trying to work around water pipes and heat ducts that shared the chase only made the task harder but eventually the pipe gave way. Because of the arrangement of other pipes and ducts in the chase to make the top cut I had to cut a hole in the wall near the ceiling in the bathroom. That cut made while standing at the top of a ladder no less awkward as the one in the closet. Though heavy, wet and rusty the top section came out with little trouble, the bottom section was another thing all together. Wet and rusty and even heavier that the upper section because of the flanges where the sections of pipe were joined, I found it impossible to dead-lift it up through the floor the 2 feet I would need to in order to remove it. With a little head scratching and a piece of rope, I came up with a plan. Tying the rope to the pipe I tossed the other end through the hole I had sawed in the wall. Mrs. and the boy where positioned in the bathroom pulling on the rope while I in the closet grunted, pulled, and cursed as we eventually coaxed the pipe out of the floor. I had scrapes on the insides of my arms from muscling the pipe around, but we had succeeded.

Replacing the pipe was anticlimactic compared to the removal. It was a matter of measuring, cutting and fitting the new pipe in place. PVC pipe cuts 1000 times easier than cast iron, and I think weighs 1000th of what equivalent cast iron does. It took maybe an hour to actual cut, fit and attach the new pipe in place. It all went smoothly except for one small detail. I had neglected to turn the water off to the upstairs bathroom. In itself, that is not a big problem as long as no one runs any water of flushed a toilet. Except the upstairs toilet tends to ‘run’ a bit sending a small but steady dribble of water down the waste pipe. I stuffed a sponge in the end of the cut off pipe, and turning the water off to the toilet. Problem solved. Or so I thought. A short time later while walking through the dining room I felt a drip on the top of my head, looking up I saw a wet spot on the ceiling at the site of a patch where a previous pipe leak had been. I raced upstairs and turned off the water to the entire bathroom. (Big sigh.) The dripping stopped after few minutes.

With help from both the boy and the wife I finished installing the new pipe. Testing showed all the joints to be watertight. (I tested by pouring a few buckets of water down the tub drain, afraid to turn the water on again to the upstairs bathroom.)

I think the clean up took almost as much time at the project itself, having trashed two bathrooms (the living room and the basement one where the pipe terminated), and tracked soggy cellulose insulation thru the whole house. The old pipe now lays on the sidewalk in the back yard; I have to figure out how to dispose of it. The pantry will remain open for some time with a fan blowing into the chase to speed the drying of the walls.

Still confused about what caused the leak in the dining room ceiling, I decided to turn on the water back on to the upstairs bathroom and toilet. Nothing, no leak, nada. It is another head scratcher. In the back of my mind that leak is a time bomb waiting to go off at some inconvenient time in the future.

Dirty, scraped and tired, Mrs. and I celebrated the completion of the project with a long hot shower at near midnight, knowing that we would not be saturating the walls any further.

I have to admit that I felt pretty good when I finished the job, grated there is still a lot of repair work to be done on the walls and pantry, but from beginning to end the whole thing too about 8 hours, there were no insurmountable problems, and only one trip to the hardware store!

I’d like to think that I saved a bundle of money by doing the job the boy, and myself, with help of course from Mrs.. I can only guess what a plumber might have charged for a job like this. The last time I had a plumber in to solder a leaking pipe for me (recall that hole in the dining room ceiling) it cost me $250. This could have easily been a $1500 to $2000 job by comparison.

Job well done.
The dead pipe. The piece on the left shattered when I dropped it on the ground.

Dateline Monday morning: While taking the boy to school I notice steam coming from under the hood of the car, accompanied by the smell of hot water and engine coolant. I swing into my mechanic who happens to be on route between school and home. Verdict: blown radiator, thermostat, et al. Cost for repairs $938.00

I tell you; water has it out for me…

September 29, 2008

Running as fast as I can to stay in the same place.

Whew! I think I spoke too soon when I said that the weekend seemed to be busier than the weekdays. When I made that statement I had not yet stepped into the current week which kept me running pretty much every day. following is an update on the weekend, I'll catch up on the week later.

We never did make it to the Roxbury Day celebration on Saturday, there was just too damn much going on. Some how we did manage to fit almost everything else in except cleaning the bathrooms. If I am going to be taking karate, I have to fit that into the weekend schedule somewhere else. I can tolerate a messy house to a degree, but a foul bathroom just makes my skin crawl. For those who don’t know, the usual Saturday routine is for Mrs. to take the boy to karate, leaving the house about 10:30 on Saturday morning and returning about 12:30. During that time I have usually gotten 2 load of laundry done and cleaned the kitchen and the bathrooms up stairs and downstairs. No more, we now leave the house at 9:20 and don’t get back ‘til 112:30. Time to figure out a new routine.

Karate was fun. Including the Mrs. and me there is a total of eight parents taking the class. There is one other woman and most of the men are a good 10 or more years younger than I am. But I am by far not the least fit among them. Never the less, I felt like a total klutz, mixing my left and my right and not being able to repeat a simple move more than a couple times in a row. It didn’t help that just across the gym from were we having class, there was a gaggle of 7-year old beginners who were jumping and leaping about with wild abandon. And then there was our son the brown belt who sat in a corner smirked at us the entire class. I was hoping that he would assist the other teachers with the beginning group, but he chose to smirk instead. We made it through the class with out suffering too much embarrassment. It will be interesting to see if everyone returns next week.

Following a quick trip home for a change of clothes, Mrs. had a dentist appointment, she is having crowns put on her front teeth as she damaged the enamel a number of years ago, and it was decide it was time to take the plunge and have them done. The appointment took about 2 hours and she leaf the office with a pair of temporary crowns that made here very self-conscious. The permanent crowns are not due for a couple of weeks. I don’t think that we are going to see her smiling much in the interim.

Smiling pot luck faces

Finally sometime around 3 we made it up to the potluck at the community garden. We didn’t bring a dish to share, as I had done a Costco run the day before to purchase paper plate, cup and a mountain of frozen hamburgers and hotdogs. It was a nice gathering and the food was great. We chatted most of the rest of the day away with old friend, met some new friends and generally had a great time. We spent a little time harvesting what was left in our meager plot, while making a vow with our neighbors with whom we share the plot to ‘really plan it right’ next year. We shall see, the road to hell etc.
We got home around dusk and spent the rest of the evening doing pretty much nothing.

Sunday we did manage to make it to the local pow wow at the Indian center. It was actually the first one we have gone to this year. Between bad weather and the cost of gasoline, we just didn’t get out. As I mentioned before this event is more like a neighborhood pow wow that anything. And much like the previous days pot luck it was very much a gathering of friends. More than any other pow wow we attend this is about spending time with friends. We know all the dancers, drummer and vendors, and at one point we were recruited by one vendor to watch is stand while he went up and sang a few traditional songs. It was a most pleasant afternoon, the weather was beautiful the drumming good and the singing better. We didn’t spend money like we often do. Mrs. bought a nice wampum ring from our vendor/artist friend. Another vendor artist / vendor was teasing Mrs. showing her all kinds of wonderful stones that he had, when she offered to buy one that really was speaking to her, he told her is wasn’t for sale, the cheek. She did happen to have one of her latest project with her and showed him the kind of work she does, and he was mightily impressed. It was a nice moment.

So that was last weekend.. As I said, I had little idea what the week had in store. I’ll try to catch up on the highlights of the week in the next couple of days.

Busted, I didn't think he saw me taking the picture..

September 20, 2008

Another Typical Weekend ahead

For some reason the weekends here seems to be busier than the weekdays. Beyond the usual chores of shopping laundry and general house cleaning, and of course the boy’s karate class, we seems to have any number of social/ cultural events to attend every weekend. This weekend is no exception with a pot luck picnic at the community garden up the hill above us, Roxbury Day Celebration at the park down the street from us and a pow wow at the Boston Indian center a couple miles away. Oh yes and there is a dentist appointment for at least one of us. I don’t see much time in there for chores and errands.

Did I mention that the Mrs. and I are starting karate this week? Due to popular demand, the dojo that is dedicated to teaching ‘Kid’s Karate’ is now offering a ‘parents’ karate for interested parents. I guess it was a natural that we take it. I am at a distinct disadvantage here, the boys mother has been taking to karate for the most part over the years, while I stay home and do chores, which means that she has a pretty good idea of all the move, while I have none. Additionally, I am 10 years older that her, but, and this is a small, but I am naturally much more flexible that either her or the boy. We shall see how this works out, but I am hoping that it is going to be fun and that the boy who is now a brown belt will not abuse us too much for our lack of ability.

The potluck begins in the middle afternoon today at the Cooper Community Center up the street. The gardens were laid in over 30 years ago on vacant lots during Roxbury’s dark days, and the community center grew up as part of that. It is now the neighborhood social center as well as the sight of many beautiful vegetable and flower gardens all maintained by neighbors. We share a plot with one of our neighbors and are frequent attendees at community meetings that take place at the center. I also have boxes full of supplies and food for the event in the basement, so there is no question that we are attending that.

The Roxbury Day celebration is taking place down at the end of the block at the Roxbury Heritage Park and the Dillaway Thomas house. It is a two-fold celebration; one for Roxbury’s role in the revolutionary war particularly during the siege of Boston in 1776, where forts at the top of the hill and what is now the Heritage Park we important in convincing the British to evacuate the city, giving Boston one more of it’s own holidays, Evacuation Day of course. The Dillaway-Thomas house built in 1745, served as the military headquarter during the siege. The second part of the celebrations is to celebrate Roxbury as the center of Boston’s African American community. Roxbury has always had a black population dating back to civil war times when it was a hotbed of abolitionist activity. Starting in the early 20th century it became a Mecca for black intellectuals and working class people. Redlining and racism beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s ghettoized the neighborhood and turned it into a slum of vacant lots and burned out buildings by the 1980s. It was with the help of a dedicated community that it has been able to bring itself back from the edge of oblivion. That is worthy of a celebration.

The Dillaway-Thomas taken in the 1940's

The pow wow which takes place both Saturday and Sunday is the annual gathering of the Native American Community in Boston This is a pretty disparate group comprised of mostly urban Indians from all over the country. Because if this and the small Native population in Boston, it is more like a family reunion that the bigger pow wows that take place in the more rural communities. We have not pow wowed much this year for a variety of reasons, so it is all the more important to attend this one.

September 17, 2008

Transitions of a sort

It is the season of changes and transitions. The most notable of which is of course school starting. At the university where I work, classes have been in session now for a couple of weeks and everything has fallen into the routine that will prevail for most of the term. The couple of weeks before their return was a frantic time while preparation were being made all over campus. As a result, the place looks better than it does at almost any time of the year, as the grounds are beautifully manicured and the building are fresh and clean and all the new equipment is in the classrooms. This year the campus art gallery down the hall mounted a larger than usual exhibit that filled the lobby in part. Called Paratrooper II, it makes a pretty bold statement and fills the entire lobby of the art gallery. One of the little benefits of working in the building that I do, is that I get to enjoy and ever changing displays of art.

Speaking of ‘art’, I am now back to riding the subway to work everyday, and much to my delight, one of the mural teams has done a number on the my local subway station. That station was built in the early 1980’s and is of what might best be called fortress style architecture; brick and concrete. It is a functional but not particularly welcoming building. The last time I had take the ‘T’ there was a crew painting over some of the concrete surfaces out front. The walls having been the victim of graffiti in the past, I assumed that this was just an attempt to give the walls a more easily cleaned surface. It was a nice surprise to return to find those walls decorated with murals of local scenes. There is a folk-art quality to them, but it makes them all the more charming.
The mural crew is a summer job project that hires high school and college students who design and paint the murals. Surprisingly, the so-called graffiti artists don’t tag over the murals. There are a couple of murals in the neighborhood that have lasted for almost 20 years without being defaced.

As other transitions go, the boy finally started school last week. His start had been delayed a week because of construction at his school. There was almost a month between his last day of summer program and the start of school. That was a burden. The Mrs. and I were taking turns bringing him to work with us, and then letting him stay home by himself occasionally. It was a great relief to get him back in school. He was not so excited as us; resigned is more the case, but at the same time he is seems interested in his classes. He was particularly please that he made it into jazz band where he will be playing guitar. This will be interesting, he doesn’t know much if anything about jazz at all we listen to lots of music in the house, but jazz is not high on the list. Additionally, his guitar training has been almost exclusively classical, although he has done a lot of ensemble work, so it will be interesting to see how he integrates into the group. I think it will be good growth experience for him. I think I will sneak Mingus, Parker and Django onto his iPod.

He is doing drama again as his after school project. They are doing ‘Into the Woods this term. It is a special reduced script for school, which is mostly just the first act. It turns out that he is the only boy so far. He has yet to have a big role in play, so this will be a big challenge for him. There are a couple of roles that he could do the largest is that of the narrator, which doesn’t require any singing. I am not sure that he is ready to sing solo in public. But we shall see. He does seem to have some acting ability. I was surprised and pleased with his performance in Harriet the Spy last spring, he had a small role, but had two little solo scenes down front center, and he was really into the moment and brought the audience with him. I am excited to see what he can do this time.

And further transitions, the boy now 13, is now becoming somewhat fashion conscious, at least to the degree that he concerned about his ‘look’. In the past he was happy with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt the latter of which he has possibly100. He has taken a liking to shirts with actually collars and buttons on them. Since we hadn’t really invested in any new school clothes, he and his mother took a trip to Target and picked out a half dozen button down shirts and some new jeans and he seems quite pleased. If he gets too fussy about his ‘look’ I may have to teach him how to iron his own shirts. So far he doesn’t really seem to care if he wears them wrinkled, but the sleeves do have to be rolled up to just the right length. I think this is another rite of passage.

And speaking of rites of passage, while us no-churchgoing heathens don’t have any bona-fide rite of passage, many of his classmates do. And he attended another one this past weekend; a Bat Mitzvah party, and in the great tradition, this one was another big blow out. It the Hard Rock Café located downtown at Quincy Market, which had been closed for he evening for that event. It seems that is his classmate is the daughter of one of the members of that venerable Boston band Aerosmith. For all I know, he may be one of the partners in the Hard Rock Café, but certainly with Aerosmith’s renewed popularity in part due to them having their own version of Guitar Hero, I am sure that they could afford to rent the restaurant for the evening. I have not met the girl’s father, and I must admit that I was never an Aerosmith fan, and I would be hard pressed to name any of their songs. So in one way I was relieved to not run into him that evening. We did have a nice chat with the girl’s mother when we dropped the boy at the party. We hung around the area and had dinner and a few drinks while he was partying, and picked him up when it was over at 10:30. He was wiped out when we arrived, (I understand that he is quite the dancer), he was barely able to stay awake on the subway ride home, and he fell into bed, and slept for 10 hours.

We were not quite so lucky in the sleep department. About 2:30 am we were awakened by some commotion on the street. A couple of cars were parked across the street and the occupants, two couples and a couple others were having a loud conversation, laughing and arguing. Hoping it would subside shortly, I was dismayed as more cars arrived and more people were gathering on the sidewalks laughing and shouting. It seems that some one in the neighborhood had decided to have an after-hours party, but the guest arrived before the party giver did. Not in any frame of mind to confront 12 or 15 people on the street and now nearly 3am, I called 911. The police arrived shortly, and quieted people down, but didn’t really do anything to disperse what was by now a gathering of 6 or 8 cars and more than 20 people. Eventually either the party giver finally arrived and the crowd dispersed, or I fell asleep out of exhaustion, or both, but I was pretty cranky the next day. Ah, the joys of living in the city.

September 9, 2008

a Time of the Season

There are certain signs that indicate a change in season or time of the year. Around our house, one of them is the cats staring intently under the stove. That is a sure sign the autumn is around the corner because the mice are trying to move in doors. Ginny in particular will sit and stare for hours. I had been noticing this behavior for several days, when at a community meeting one of our neighbors asked it we had been having any mouse problems because she was having a mini invasion. I related the story of the cats staring under the stove speculating that yes we too must have them even though they hadn’t shown themselves to me. Last winter we had a mouse invasion about this time, a number of them dining on packages of instant oatmeal in the pantry closet before we caught on and set a couple traps. Between the traps and the cats I think we scored 5 mice last year. When I returned home after the meeting I checked a trap that I leave in the pantry just as a matter of principle, and sure enough there was a desiccated mouse ensnared. It had been there for more than a few days, and required tossing carcass and trap as one unit. Since then I have not trapped another mouse, the instant oatmeal is intact, and the cats have not captured any and their vigils at the stove have stopped. That must mean that mouse season is over.

As a little postscript, the meeting was to get the neighborhood behind a proposal to upgrade a little pocket park that is up the block. The park has been there since the 1870’s but in the most recent configuration dating from the 1970’s is best described as ‘barrier construction’ of low concrete walls and short pilasters, it has been long neglected and is hardly inviting. There are funds available for upgrading and this was a meeting to discuss how to get some of those funds. The guy who organized the meeting and is the force behind the project had brought some visual aids among them were plans that the Olmsted Brothers had originally done of the park and a page out of the city atlas from 1873, that showed the park, then known as Lewis Park but now known as Kitteredge Park. But most notable to me down two blocks from the park and pictured on the atlas was the plan of our house. I have never been sure how old our house is. I have a page from an 1890 Atlas that shows it, I have speculated that it could date as early as 1875, from when the neighborhood was first being built up, but this is the first time that had seen evidence that my suspicions might be true.

Lastly, another sign of seasonal changes is the guilt I feel each year towards the end of summer when I realize that the road to hell has again been paved with all the intentions of the projects I was going to accomplish over the summer. I will not enumerate them her, as it will only make me feel worse. It struck me bad the other day and I did manage to sand and varnish the front door, a task that need to be done at least every 2 years. So a few hours of sanding and polishing later I was feeling better there are just the other dozen jobs now.

But at least this gives me a picture to post: a street view of the front door ..