Monday, May 23, 2011


Every day is a gift.  Some days are precious,  some pretty and some quiet.  Today presented silliness.  My six year old West Highland Terrier-Poodle mix (we have fondly dubbed her a Groton Terrier), Reilly, is descended from hunting dogs and vermin catchers.  The instincts must have skipped this particular little pooch. 

This gray morning, Reilly and I headed out to our terraced backyard for a quick constitutional and check of the pool area.  As we strode down the deck stairs to the upper yard, we approached our lovely old rock wall.  It curves along a hill and serves as a retaining wall extending from the gargage foundation down into the backyard.  It stands about five feet at its highest point and is loaded with nooks and essence is it the nicest chipmunk condo in town.

Anyway, as we hit the brick patio at the base of the stairs, I looked down at my little friend who was frozen in mid-step.  She stared intently at the wall.  I looked over and there looking back were three chipmunks...Alvin, Theodore and Simon, I suppose.  I saw them, they saw us, but Reilly was fooled by their camouflage. They were sitting very still, surprisingly so, as I moved closer...but the mutt stayed put.  Then it dawned on me that there were not three chippies, but five!  So, Chip, a wee baby had poked its head out of one of the holes in the wall and here come's the silliness:  hanging by its front paws from a branch of my beautiful Japanese Maple was Dale.  Apparently he'd been foraging in the nearby bird feeder when we interrupted his snack time.  The others seemed to be holding their collective breath and he held on for dear life. 

After severals minutes of this stare/stand/hang/ off, Chip squeaked and ducked into the wall...that's all it took and Reilly shot off around the rock wall and up the hill in pursuit of scrambling Rodentia.  Alvin and his pals ducked into the wall or nearby vinca vine.  Dale baled.  He dropped to the ground below and ran to the left of the viburnum as Reilly tore around its right side.  All of a sudden, there were chipmunks chip-chip-chipping all over our yard.  The dog was snuffling through the newly spread bark mulch and pouncing every few steps into the vinca.  Finally, she returned to a secluded spot under the leafy viburnum and stood watch.  I was still standing on the bricks, not five feet from the rock wall when Chip poked out again, up and over a few holes from whence I first spotted him.  He chipped a challenge to Reilly.  I made the better offer however..."Come on Reilly, let's go get Emily and a cookie!" That's all it took for her to bound back up the stairs. 

As I climbed up to the deck, I looked over my shoulder to see Alvin and Theodore back up on the top of the wall...we agreed silently, same time, same station, tomorrow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

All Politics is Local

Since coming back to the US, I have resumed my addiction to politics...much to my family's dismay.  I am one of those people with whom discussions about politics, religion and processed foods should never be allowed.  So if you read any further, you have been warned!  I get very fiery about such things and although I have opinions, I do believe I have, much to learn, much to offer and the ability to build consensus...I have come a looong way since my college years when I thought I had the answer to everything.  Now I think I have the skill set to find or create the answers with the help of others.  I also know that is wise to agree to disagree from time to time and not see this as a win-lose scenario for participants.  I am not however planning on running for yet.

A few years back, I read Tip O'Neill's book, All Politics is Local.  I gleaned from this tome that one's call to public service is inspired by your home...your family, neighbors, and the values nurtured therein.  Political life and aspirations should not be limited to or directed by one's desire to be powerful or to be right all the time.  Life in public service should be motivated by the desire to DO right.  It is also important to recognize that who you are and where you come from matters...but so to is the idea that friends, neighbors and people who choose to support your service and sacrifice to a public life have placed trust in you to remember them, consider them and honor them when you make decisions for them and speak for them.  I think Tip would be disappointed with politics today.

Something has happened to public service and politics.  They are not necessarily nobly linked.  Sadly, I perceive a lot of "do as I say, not as I do", going on in politics.  Career politicians are just it for the job, the power, the perks and the local folks who got them to where they are, are long forgotten.  And this is happening on all levels of government...not just in the gridlock of Washington, DC.

As a student of history, I ascribe that politics and party politics in particular, is the necessary evil of the election process.  Vetting and platform building are elements required to understand who is seeking your trust and why it is deserved.  Politicking was a post-election tool in government to build consensus or at least move the minority and majority closer together.  The US Constitution was created through the power of compromise and in itself lays out the means to change/amend through compromise. Today, politics is like 16th century religious reformation of the ...each side firm in its view and laying claims of heresy to the other side.  I don't know when this happened, but the art of compromise has come to the brink of extinction. Too many elected officials have adopted the philosophy that being right is more important and powerful than doing right and to paraphrase Charlie Sheen, politics is all about WINNING the end, many of the folks back home lose...their trust is broken. 

At some point, the wheels of political progress got stuck.  Party politics became polarizing.  Generalizations and castigation have become de rigueur.  Conservatives hate children and seniors, secretly thrilled with global warming as the melting of the ice caps are providing the ice floes upon which they will banish the infirm...Liberals are socialist, tax sucking elitists who know better than any average citizen and will tell you how much your life sucks because you won't let the government run it for you...Independents lack backbone because they won't choose a side until it is clear which side will WIN. I won't even go down the Tea Party road...but does this sound kinda familiar?  Sound rather disappointing?  I was told after the last presidential election that the "R" after one's name stood for did we get here?

Aside from my addiction to politics and news, what prompted me to write today was what I perceived to be a bit of unfortunate politicking in my home town.   Tuesday was a local town election day.  There were 2 contested races, one for selectman and one for the parks commission.  All the rest were uncontested.  There were no ballot questions.  And although it may seem trivial, it was a cold and rainy perfect for sitting at home with a good book.  I voted.  At 4pm.  I was the only person on my street who had voted by that time.  I made a did those who didn't vote.  Some made an informed choice, others didn't realize it was election day...and others still didn't vote because in many cases it seemed to them the decision was already contests for most of the seats.  So, back to why I am opining...after voting, I logged onto my computer and I got an update from our local google list serve.  One of our elected leaders, in choosing to inform citizens of the election via the google email update informed the subscribers that by 4:30 pm, about 4% of the registered voters had come out to vote...and he labeled this pathetic.  He then went onto chastise many of the people on the list-serve that they would better serve the town by voting than by wasting time complaining about things like Town Meeting and other local issues in this open forum.   This post prompted quite a few replies and more than a few well meaning, well spoken and well respected citizens were concerned with the elected officials choice of words and way of urging people to vote...some asked that if voter turnout was a concern, wouldn't it be advantageous to see what ways might be employed in the future to get the word out was noted that the Town Election date was not posted on our Town Website's calendar of events. (The only notification I received was the mailing of the Town Warrant Articles for our Open Town meeting...there was a notice about the election included).  Others thought perhaps rather than relying on a subscriber list-serve and a banner over Main Street to inform the public that town representatives could come up with other ways of informing and reminding voters of important dates...the suggestions were, I as saw it, just that, suggestions, ideas to address a local issue that was concerning to some as prompted by an official...but rather than accept these, the original poster attributed the voter turnout as a major character flaw amongst our citizens and rather than thank people...constituents for support and ideas for hopefully making the process work better next time, he just reiterated that the situation was pathetic and seemingly dismissed the comments of his friends, neighbors and in many cases supporters. I have to admit that it can be easy to develop misconceptions about intentions via email and discussion threads...and this should be considered by those who post and those who does have limits.  Anyway,  I had to stop reading the thread because I became frustrated by the politics of "I'd rather be right than do right"...I am surprised by the number of politicians who forget that once elected they are public servants...that there is an obligation to remember who got you there, honor the ideas and values of your community and most importantly to represent all the people of the town, not just the ones who agree with you.  And public service is not about the elected is all about those whom you serve.

All politics is local.  As citizens of the greatest nation on Earth (I admit I am biased), we should accept this right and responsibility to vote, be grateful for the privilege to vote and respect those who make different choices.  It is every citizen's duty to be engaged and make every effort to do their civic is also the responsibility of those elected to represent to support that citizen's engage the citizenry in a call to action...and sometimes a choice not to act...I'll tell you a little secret, which the Constitution affords me the right to keep...when I voted in the 2008 Presidential election, I didn't vote for the offices of President and Vice President because I did not feel like those running represented what I hoped for in the future of this at the polls, I exercised my right not to vote.  I voted on ballot questions and for other offices...was my choice not to vote for president/vp pathetic?  I don't think was my choice. I exercised my right.  I just happened to do it at the polls.

With my vote, I express my opinion and desire for our future on the local, state and federal level...I trust that those who are elected to serve at those levels stay connected to the people.  We are after all a government of, by and for the people...thanks for sharing that Mr. Lincoln.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flying...First Class or No Class

There must be a crotchedy switch that gets flicked when one crosses into a particular decade...or maybe I am just a snob.

Okay, I am a snob...but well intended, never mean spirited (at the moment anyway) and couth.  I put my napkin on my lap.  I do not speak with food in my mouth.  I keep my elbows off the table.  I like nice things.  I drink fine wine.  And...I do not suffer fools well.  I find that my snob switch frequently gets flipped when I am on vacation.  My mother taught me that travel is a privileged thing to do, so you dress appropriately, you behave with decorum and you do as requested so all may have a safe and pleasant trip...I flew for the first time when I was six and I still maintain this attitude about travel whether by air, boat or train...heck I even treat a cab ride as a special treat...I am on vacation after is those other people who wreck it.

Recently, I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel.  Why the good Lord has not blessed me with a private jet is a mystery.  Whenever possible and frequent flyer points allow, I beg my husband to upgrade us to business class.  It is not that feel I am entitled or BELONG there (I do), but that so many other people belong back in coach.  You know the ones...the person who swears that their suitcase is a carry-on, yet it is too heavy for them to lift it up into the overhead. and that a purse, brown bag lunch from one of the airport greasy spoons  and shopping bags from the duty free store really do constitute one personal item...they only brought one from home and the others are free because they got them at the know who you are!  There is the (perfectly healthy) person who boards the plane when those needing assistance are permitted and then plunks down in the aisle seat of the row you are ticketed for...and they are in your seat, but won't move because they need to get to their "carry-on" during the flight...and "It is just easier this way"..."oh and I hope you don't mind that I put my duty free shopping bag there in the is perfume and I don't want the bottles to break in the overhead".  "What's that?  Oh, in front of me?  That is my Italian sub with extra onions and sour cream and onion chips and a large diet coke.  I'll eat that once we hit cruising altitude.  I had curry for lunch, so I am good for now!"  Good lord save us!

Worse are the cattle call know the "you are free to move about the country" folks, but don't even think of queueing up in the wrong section and number at the gate or you'll be subjected to withering looks, snarky under the breath comments and the demeaning invasion of personal space encroachment by the person who MUST stand in the imaginary spot numbered 9 where you have so naively encamped for the 12 minute wait prior to boarding.   I have seen people run over toes of alleged line usurpers with the wheels of their suitcases (which should have been checked).  I even saw an old guy with a cane poke a kid who was leaning against one of the numbered markers, listening to his iPod, because he was standing in the wrong place.  I was coming home from a quick visit to Baltimore when I had to fly the LUV airline.  I was in group 3, # 10.  Not the lucky bunch, but better off that the poor schmucks in Boarding Group 4.  I was flying alone as Bill was headed off to Atlanta for business class...grrr...any way, it was my turn to board.  I had no baggage, well at least not any that one traditionally carries-on (there is the abandonment issue, some self-esteem stuff, but...) just my purse and a book.  As I walked down the aisle, I would see a middle or window seat "open" and politely say excuse me, may I take this seat...only to be told, not once, not twice, but three times by three different people (cheeky experienced flyers) that the seat was taken and the person's companion whose book/hat/sweater was holding the seat was in the bathroom. Can you believe it?  They were lying!  This is wrong, rude, selfish and in the end...justice is served because invariably, those seats which are not really taken will be occupied by the person who, is currently in the airport bathroom with diarrhea and needs a little extra time to clean up or is last on the plane because he ran from one connecting flight to this one 50 gates away in the other terminal!  Or my personal favorite...the 7 foot tall man who wears his weight well...squeezes into the middle seat and asks for the seat belt extender...yesss.  You know, as I think of it, please just give me priority access and I'll ignore the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to fly free and waiting to board.  Set me in seat 4A with a good book and I am good to go.  I am classy and I want to be seated in a class; first, business, airplane democracy for me...nope, give me good old fashioned Hamiltonian elitism when I fly.  What can I say...this is my personal baggage...and it can't be checked!

The other travel picayune that irks me are first time and infrequent flyers.  Come on people, work with me.  We have been living with enhanced security measures for 10 years now.  If you haven't flown before, look up travel tips on the airline website.  ASK somebody BEFORE you get in the security line...not while you are at the screening point if you need to take off shoes,  empty your pockets, put metal/coins/3 ounces of liquid in a clear 1 quart platic bag in the dish, belts, sweaters, the switchblade, etc.  Did you not read the sign that said no liquids over 3 ounces, no aerosols, no lighters, knives, guns, scissors, box cutters...I am really sorry but you shouldn't have packed 6 12 ounce baby bottles full of formula in your ginornmous diaper bag...oh and by the way...if the baby can't carry it on...they don't get a carry-on...they ARE a carry-on...

I saw this really sweet but clueless family trying to get through security at Logan.  They were so totally ill-prepared and overpacked for the flight.  They had 2 diaper bags, a stroller, a car seat, a backpack and 2...wait for it... fanny packs.  They looked like they were heading to a NASCAR event...Logo t-shirts, torn jeans, flip-flops, studded belts, chains as bracelets, and lord knows what else...they also had a toddler...although he ran more than he toddled...and he absolutely was in charge of pushing his riding in it for him.  They did not have a clue what they were doing.  We watched our own airport circus and of course this was causing huge delays.  The family was polite and kept  apologizing telling everyone this was their first time flying...I was proud of our fellow passengers...everyone pretty much kept their cool.  But we all had to laugh when Dad who was in a separate security line than his family...he bifurcated somewhere along the line...tried to go through the screener with his hat, watch, belt and shoes on.  He was sent back and took off almost all the obligatory things, save his belt...and this was an impressive belt...doing important work!  He stepped through the screening device and the alarm sounded...takes off the belt and from the archway, leans back and throws the belt into the X-ray machine...not in bin, not on the conveyor, but hurls it through the machine...losing his balance and his pants...they fell right down to his knees!  Of course, you know which flight they were on right?  Uh, huh....mine. 

I "love" the family with three kids...two of whom are in diapers and the parents always manage to be ticketed in absolute opposite ends of the plane and a lone kid stuck in an exit row. They expect that we, who printed our boarding passes and seat assignments off at home should give up our seats three rows away from Mommy and the baby with the diaper that smells like it hasn't been changed for several about a weapon of mass destruction.... for the seat in the rear of the plane next to the lav, so Dad with the drool monster can pass Stinky and Stinkier over the rows to each other when one or the other can't stand the ear splitting screaming of the child that wants to be with the other parent.  And of course, the lone kid is moved to a seat at the rear of the plane next to the lav and therefore kind-hearted snob me...and his backpack of dinosaurs, cars and melted chocolate candy is all the way up front with Mommy and he wants his Matchbox cars NOW!  I need my complimentary glass of champagne NOW! is in first class...grrr...

When in coach, if not seated next to the kid who insists that my arm is a really cool ramp for his Tonka truck, then, Bill and I are usually seated next to the older woman traveling alone (for a reason...she never shuts up!)...and she offers us insightful and incendiary commentary on everything that is going wrong on the plane.  It is my habit, no matter what class I am in, to read.  It helps me get over my pre-flight jitters as well as takes me away, much like a Calgon bath...from all the stress around us...but there she is Ms. Chatty Kathy..."Do you see that...that woman isn't wearing her seat belt!"  She just sat down and we are still on the ground.  "Why is it so hot in here?  Would you mind turning on your air (aka instant influenza)? " "That man with the funny head you think he might be a Muslim or a terrorist? That's a captain's hat...and he's the ditz"  "What are you reading?  Have you read the Twilight books?  I think I am Team Edward, but I dunno...maybe blah, blah...".now I know why knitting needles are not allowed on planes."

With all the craziness that is travel these days, wouldn't it be easier to just do things the right way?  Pack light.  Remember that you are sharing the friendly skies with others and we have to share the overhead bins.  If you are flying with an airline for the first time, check out their website or with your travel agent for practical travel tips.  Don't try to board the plane before it is your just make it tough for those who really need the help.  And for the love of Pete, don't get angry with the personnel who are trying to do their job, especially when it is you who screwed up.  I know is stinks that we have to pay for checked baggage, but really, it is just wrong, selfish and ill considered when you bring that behemoth you call a carry-on into the cabin.  If you have been assigned a seat, sit there...there are only two times when it is okay to switch your seat (IMHO) 1) to assist someone who really needs the help and 2) to give a better seat to a US Service man or woman. 

So people, take a lesson from my dear Mom...remember who you are, what you are and where you came from.  Do your homework before traveling...and believe only need half the stuff you repack...and if you can't upgrade, at least behave like you've got a first class ticket...Ah, to heck with it...I'm sitting up in first class...drinking champagne...and avoiding eye contact with you chumps as you pass by...Buh-bye.