Friday, April 13, 2007

Trish Feld 1943 -2007

A personal note: My mother, Trish Feld, died yesterday. A few people who read this blog know that she's been seriously ill. The rest of you may have been wondering why I've spent the last couple of years going back and forth between Vermont, where I'm from, and my home in Lancashire. She is why.

In August 2005 she was diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumor. Mom weathered a grueling succession of radiation and chemotherapy treatments but gradually declined, and died quietly here at home yesterday evening, with her family around her. She never lost her sense of humor, and faced her ordeal with tremendous courage and grace.

Here's a little piece a local newspaper columnist wrote about her life. A children's librarian, she cared passionately about reading and learning, and she touched the lives of so many people, both personally and professionally, that we aren't sure the church is going to be able to hold everyone.

Nobody knows why people develop brain tumors. If, through the wonders of Google, anyone happens on this post in who is in the same situation, I will pass on the tremendously valuable Brain Hospice site, and this book that straightforwardly describes what happens after diagnosis from a first-person perspective.

If I have learned anything from this experience, it is just the same things people always learn, over and over, when someone dear to them dies. But they still bear repeating: your family are always more important than anything else. Tell them how much you love them, early and often. And appreciate them while you have them; you never know what life is going to throw at you.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

More friggin snow

When you grow up in Vermont, you think it's totally normal to spend seven months of the year hibernating like a grizzly, belly up to the radiator. The snow falls, is pretty, goes and comes and piles up and turns gray and melts and comes back and turns into slush, and you don't bat an eyelash. You've spent more hours scraping the windscreen in your lifetime than, maybe, you've spent drinking margaritas, or playing UNO. You're a champion scraper. An expert shoveler. You can take a car from snowbound to drive-ready in ten minutes flat at dawn, when it's so cold your nose hairs freeze.

But then, one day, you leave the state and move to a place very far away, where it rarely snows. At first, you miss the snow. It seems weird; where's winter? No snowshoeing. Sayonara sugar on snow. Mittens seem pointless.

You get used to it.

Then, years later, you come back to Vermont. For a very long time. In the winter.

You are so not prepared. For chrissakes, you've started buying suede boots again. You can't remember how to drive in mixed precipitation. And you've totally lost the ability to tell the difference between sleet and freezing rain. It feels like the part in Narnia where they thaw out the white witch, but in reverse.

Please, you whimper. Let it end. I can't take any more.

Winter doesn't give a shit. Valentine's Day blizzard, St. Patty's Day storm, Easter Nor'easter. Mayday ice storm, Memorial Day whiteout. Why not? Bring it on.


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The river spirit is not amused

As I write this, I'm sitting in a window seat at Capitol Grounds in Montpelier. Next to me is the Winooski River, which is rising by the hour. The city is on official "flood watch." There are sandbags stacked along the sidewalk in front of the storefronts, and some streets are closed so that the big trucks hauling more sandbags can get around. The newspaper says the next 18 hours are critical.

As I sit here drinking my cafe au lait and tapping away, people keep coming up to peer nervously over my shoulder at the river. "It's risen a couple of inches since I've been here," one man says. "Look, I could see the dirt at the bottom of that bank, but now it's covered up. Now there's only six feet clear under the bridge." The young baristas are all rooting for a flood so they can go home and get out of work. They keep popping out from the kitchen door like prairie dogs and making disgusted comments about how slowly the waters are rising. Out the window, I watch as people walking over the bridge each stop and look speculatively down at the brown, swollen river. Everyone stops and looks.

Yesterday they held a ritual ceremony on the riverbank to direct energies toward promoting "a gentle thaw." People made offerings to the river spirit. I heard about this, and was intrigued. I asked one of the organizers, a healer who has office space right next door to my yoga studio, what kind of offerings they would be making. She considered this question for a moment. "It could be anything that's really special to you, anything you think would please the river spirit," she said serenely. "A bead you made, maybe... or a cookie." A cookie. Of course. You've got to love Montpelier. There really is no place like it.

Their cookies and beads may not have been enough; The river spirit still seems uneasy. The water level has risen a couple of inches since I've been here. Now it's covering the bottom of a funny-shaped paint mark on the riverbed wall that I've been keeping my eye on. The cafe has emptied out, and I wonder what I'm still doing here, braving it out. Maybe it's time to go.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gun crazy

With three school shootings in a week, It's becoming increasingly bizarre to me how nobody is talking about guns. The media storm swirls around these unhappy communities, showing endless footage of memorial services and prayer meetings. But the bigger "repurcussion" story to emerge is parents demanding to know how safe their own kids' schools are, whether the doors are locked or not and how easy it is for people to gain access.

I don't understand why the easy availability of guns has not been seized upon as a key theme in these crimes. Maybe this seems more striking to me because I have been living in England for a few years now, where guns are strictly regulated and where gun crime remains rare. Why is it still so easy to get a gun here?

This piece in the Progressive raises just this issue, also linking the shootings with the other big story of the week, the disclosure of Congressman Foley's inappropriate emails to young boys. Violence begets violence. This editorial in the St. Pete Times (which, by the way, had the initial set of Foley emails before ABC did but thought they were too ambiguous to run with) calls for stricter gun control, but notes that the Republican controlled Congress seems intent on weakening existing gun control legislation as it is. This week alone we've seen evidence of corruption, deceit, moral rot, selfishness and cowardice from the Republican party. When is this nightmare going to end?

Yesterday I was in a store in town and noticed they were selling a little digital counter on a keychain, a perpetual countdown to the President's last moment in office. All of us waiting in line to pay shared a rueful laugh about it. I thought about buying one, but it was twelve bucks, which seemed a little steep. Still, the owner told me they had already sold four that day.

At least Hastert's probably on the way out. Back to the Boar's Nest for him!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Cadillac of apples

What a great weekend. It started off Friday night at a hot-tub get-together with some old friends in Waterbury. The talk turned to financial planners, granite countertops and daycare, and I was a little freaked out by how adult everyone sounded, but it was lots of fun.

Saturday morning I went to the farmer's market in Montpelier and ran into a ton of people I knew. Didn't see any of these performance artists that I've heard about there, but a guy dressed like a pirate was running around at one point. Ate an incredible sticky bun from the fabulous Red Hen Baking Co. Bought a matching set of t-shirts for my whole family from Bo at Eat More Kale (a great stencil design which features George W. Bush's face topped by Mickey Mouse ears.)

I also tried a Honeycrisp apple for the first time. At the Ellie's farm stand they had a crate of these apples with a big sign: "Honeycrisp - The Cadillac of Apples!" And they were more expensive than all the other apples Ellies had. I was standing there wondering if this was an example of clever marketing, when some women ran up, shouting, "Hey, they got Honeycrisps!" and proceeded to load up a couple of bags like they were scared someone else might get to them first. After all that, of course we had to get one. And it was a pretty nice apple - a little too sweet for me, I prefer the tart ones - but it has a very unusual flavor. Last night we had a friend over to dinner and she was also talking about the Honeycrisps, so I guess this qualifies as a hot trend in produce.

After the farmer's market my dad, my brother and I hiked up Stowe Pinnacle. This wasn't as crowded as I'd feared it might be during the beginning of leaf peeper season. One thing I noticed, though, was a lot of the people hiking with dogs had their dogs outfitted with special strap-on dog bags. Some were carrying dog-size camelpak water carriers, complete with plastic straws. Others dogs were wearing pannier-style saddlebags. Only in Vermont!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bubba slams Fox, Fox threatens YouTube

So I'm back in Vermont, arriving in the middle of the Clinton-Fox kerfuffle. Everyone everyone is talking about Bill Clinton's appearance yesterday on a Fox News talk show, where he responded to questions about why he didn't do more to catch Bin Laden after the U.S. Cole bombing with an angry tirade against the Murdoch-owned Fox and the American right.

An English viewer, raised on a diet of the Today programme and Parliamentary catfights, might not understand what all the fuss was about; Though he criticized the Bush administration, Clinton didn't say anything really outrageous. But if you understand the despondent state of the Democratic party in this country, you'll know it's a big deal. Confonted with a feckless Republican administration that has raped the environment, endangered the American citizenry and raided the country's coffers for their own benefit, the left has been almost bizarrely incapable of elucidating a response. Clinton's tirade "gave the Democratic party a backbone transplant" as Paul Begala said on one of the morning shows - in short, Clinton's outburst channelled the zeitgeist: people are getting angry, and realizing that we don't have to put up with this shit.

An interesting side story here is what's happening over on YouTube. Naturally, the folks who didn't see it on TV went there first to watch a video clip, and several people had posted it. But YouTube is taking the Clinton clips down as fast as they're put up, after Fox news threatened them with legal action. People seem to be reposting, but are worried about the site's culpability all the same: " er... how do we protect YouTube from copyright violations?" one YouTuber fretted. "Fox will sue them to kingdom come and get them shut down if we keep on posting, but if we don't, then Fox, big media, and the unjust law wins. Can we post under "Fair Use" or creative commons, or anti-copyright?
Is there any chance for us? Or do we just get battered by the law again and again, until we shut up like good little sheep?"

It's a good question. I think you can watch the video over at Fox News' website, but who wants to give them traffic? I have to wonder if anyone's been cheeky enough to try and post it on MySpace, which Murdoch also owns. While it's unpleasant to imagine as-yet tiny and independent YouTube getting menaced by Fox's legal heavies, how much scarier would it be if, say, Murdoch already owned YouTube, and could simply prevent people from posting the clip directly, or suspend the membership of people who tried to? This is exactly why journalists and anyone else who cares about freedom of speech need to pay attention to web ownership. While the low cost of online publishing makes it easy to set up new media outlets, the web is playing host to new and troubling varieties of media conglomeration, influence-buying and state censorship.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blog Neglect

Did I hear someone say I didn't update this blog often enough? Horsefeathers!

I'm still here. Its just that this is my blog for when I'm back home in VT. And I'm not now, so I'm blogging over at The Manchizzle. But I'll be home for a nice long visit in late Sept.- Early Oct. And I live in hope that the foliage fairy won't crap out like she did last year, when the leaves unceremoniously turned brown and fell off the trees.