Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Tales of a Town

I am a small town girl.  In the 60's and 70's, I grew up in a bedroom community 12 miles north of Boston.  Over the course of my adult life,we moved to a couple of more affordable towns early in my marriage and then moved to my favorite "hometown" about 12 years ago.  I moved here because this town represented all that "hometown" means.  There was a strong and evolving school system, a family friendly library, small businesses like the apple orchard on Old Ayer Road, that drew us in  from miles away, from our previous towns...and there are the people who smile, ask you if you are new to town...recommend a dentist, introduce you to the police chief and the school principals...even if you aren't a "townie", you were welcomed to become time!

Late in 2009, I was blessed (and cursed) to move to Paris, France.  My husband and I thought we'd be there for three years, but due to happy circumstances, we were recalled back to the US.  My time in Paris was très intéressant.   I was a small town girl living in one of the most exciting cities in the world...well shut my mouth, butter my buns and call 'em biscuits...I did okay.  I had a good six months of homesickness, but in that time, I found a voice...a written one....but a strong one...and I found an untapped strength and confidence that I never knew existed.  I also found my opinion...but I think this is more a fact of age than locality.  With all this newness, I started to push Paris' and my own boundaries.  Not having the benefit of small town connectedness, I struck out to form new relationships and connections.  I had more than a nodding acquaintance with the waiters in the Cafe Sorbonne, located beneath our apartment.  Each morning, when I would pass by on my morning walk with Reilly, my faithful canine companion, the young, bald waiter, Alex,  would come out and give Reilly a robust scratch about her ears...and sometimes a piece of croissant...and he'd wish us a "bon journee".  And when all three of us would pop into the cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up, our mustachioed waiter friend would shake our hands firmly and with friendly conviction. Reilly would get her own special water bowl and a treat while Bill and I enjoyed an espresso or a glass of Rose'.  We experienced many such connections throughout the city...along the quais of the river Seine, in the Jardins du Luxembourg and all along the Blvds St. Michel and St Germain.  From my dear friends at the Salon de Audebert to the wine merchant and my florist on rue des ecoles...I had made some French connections...and happily some wonderful friends (miss you Juan, Nadine, Gabrielle, Roland, Tim, Chou, Janine, Peter, Phillipe, Patty, Roger and Christine!)

When we got word that our time in Paris was to be cut short, I was both happy and sad.  I knew I was going to miss the "potential" of Paris. I would miss the culture and the access to so much that is "haute" and chic and ooh, la, la.  But I was going my my comfort my little town and that fact made me supremely happy.

I returned to Groton, one year to the day of finding our apartment in Paris.  This coincidence still strikes me as funny...why, I dunno, but it does. We came back just before the holidays. I returned to Groton a new and improved woman...with an empty nest and a husband whose job was keeping him busy and on the road...but I was home.  Although I was often alone, I wouldn't be lonely and with the holidays and other homecomings, I was too busy to notice how life in a small town had changed in a year.

Within a few days of being home and folks realizing we were home, I was getting calls from people to see if I would pick up where I left off in my non-profit and volunteer "jobs"...or if would I join this cause or was flattering and nice to be needed, but what Paris taught me was that after 25 years of volunteering in an alphabet soup of organizations, it was time to focus on me for a while.  I met friends for coffee or lunch for the sake of seeing each other, not to have a meeting with the goal of setting up more meetings.

I have maintained some of the cultural and behavioral habits I adopted in Paris.  I like to shop for groceries more frequently, with a particular menu in mind, rather than stock up for a the days when time was short and Mom's Taxi service was at full throttle.  I have had time to explore places in the area, from gift shops to museums....something I never would have done on my own before Paris. My favorite custom  I employ is the Parisian/French habit of always saying hello upon entering a business/establishment and making eye contact, then saying thank you and good bye upon leaving said is the most civilized thing I do and it makes me very happy to do so...I encourage all Americans to do home and abroad!

But something changed in the year abroad...I know I did...but my hometown changed too.  It seems harder to find the friendly face in the grocery store or walking along any number of paths in town. I have noticed too, that this place that once welcomed newcomers, new ideas and new energy seems to be closed down to that which is "new".  This town used to be a place where people came together to build a future...and, to quote the school district motto..."together a promise to excel" seems to be a place where NIMBY (not in my back yard) is a rising sentiment.  We have come to a place in time where perceptions are not lining up with realities.  People say they want a vibrant and busy downtown, but then complain that traffic and parking will make life miserable.  People claim they want family friendly venues and activities...but families with children and dogs shouldn't be allowed to play or have access to parks and trails because some people don't like dealing with such things while jogging, riding bikes and wearing spandex.  We've had people complain because they moved into a newer residential development built down the road from a successful working farm and they want the farmers/town/board of health to do something about the smell...really?  You moved to an agricultural community...with farms that have been here for hundreds of years. 

We have seen local businesses struggle as well.  Our town is a bit confused about business.  On one hand, the citizens and leadership want to maintain the quintessential small town feel of days of yore, by limiting the types of businesses welcomed here...with the exception of Dunkin' Donuts and CVS, you won't find any chain stores, fast food joints or big box stores...and on the other hand, when local businesses do set up here, it is too inconvenient for locals to visit them (parking issues, the stores are specialty shops, etc), especially when a trip up to Nashua provides everything you need in a half mile radius of the mall.

Recently, Groton tragically lost an historic landmark and central business to fire.  It was this incident which showed me that perhaps this is not the Groton I moved to twelve years ago.  With the exception of a few people, there was little outpouring of support for the owner and the residents of the Inn who were displaced by the conflagration.  The night of the fire, Karen Tuomi, a truly awesome lady and in my opinion a town hero, organized shelter for the residents of the Inn's apartments and folks set up sustenance for the stalwart fire fighters.  Within hours of the fire's being extinguished, a local organization called an emergency meeting about preserving the historic inn, but to this day, I have yet to hear of an emergency meeting to address the needs of the families involved or the wounds to our town as a whole; we lost a local treasure, filled with memories and filled with potential.  Granted there were plenty of Facebook comments...but where was our neighborly response...a real, physical, human response...the community supper...the prayer service...the collection of goods to replace stuff lost in the fire?   We didn't gather as a community to talk about how we could help...make a difference...and "deal"  as a town.  Within a week, a couple of people with gumption organized funds for the families with local banks...but as a whole, Groton just gawked at the ruins and then...much to my dismay...speculated about the cause of the fire. Once that can of worms opened, unwanted and unnecessary opinions about the fire and the future of the Inn were shared.  Through the veil of e-mail on our local list serve...writing critical words is easier than sharing them face to face...some vociferous people expressed their desires for the site...often accompanied by cruel and crude criticism about a family that had been in business in town for over thirty years.  Admittedly, there were people on our local Google list serve who were dreaming about a better Groton...about honoring an historic site and the legacy of all the Inn's owners...but there were many more who out and out disparaged folks who are facing the hardest time of their lives only to make themselves seem bigger by knocking people when they are down. 

I was disappointed in my hometown when I read those posts and the articles in the papers.  I was shocked that some of my neighbors would go there, down a very disturbing and distrustful path...and the surprisingly few retorts to all this negativity...I plead guilty to not responding, until now and in this somewhat sheltered forum...because the invective of those few, sharp tongued is so opinion and observations in that forum would have no meaning and frankly I don't want to be the next target of their venom.

I think there is still time to right the course that we took as a town during this incident...and then there is the amazingly hope filled and happy story of Riley. 

Last week, a family posted  on the list serve, an urgent request for help in locating their lost Sheltie dog, Riley.  Immediately, a small group of the kindhearted in Groton offered suggestions, assistance and prayers.  People organized searches for the skittish pup and posters and fliers popped up all over town.  Shortly, news of Riley sightings were reported and search parties were narrowing down the rescue and recovery areas.  As I drove around the back streets of town, I kept my windows rolled down and I would whistle or call out "RIIII-LEEEE"...always with a hope and prayer in my heart that I might see the wayward tail wagger. 

Today, good news was posted on the Groton List and Riley was found...through cooperative efforts of neighbors and strangers...and there was nary a nasty word about leash laws and dog parks and woulda, coulda, shoulda-s...just a very happy ending. This is the stuff that makes me proud to be a part of my hometown...and in my heart and in my humble know the one that age and Parisian life emboldened, this is the way we should focus our energies...building up, bringing together...being there for our neighbors, in good times and in bad...this is and should be the stuff of our  town's stories....our history.

Merci....bon journee!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Re-inventing Reading

I just bought a stack of books...more serious reading for the upcoming shorter days and longer nights ahead.  I used to be a voracious reader, averaging at least a couple of books a week.  Now I am lucky if I finish a couple of books a month.  One of the reasons is that the books I read tend to be Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals.  It is 757 pages reading text and has another 159 pages of notes and the index.  Another reason, in the summer, I can sit by the pool and bang off a couple hundred pages without feeling guilty that I am not doing something else...but now that Autumn is approaching, my instincts are to get back into routines and my reading routine includes a paperback in my purse or the car for when I am standing in a long line somewhere, sitting in a waiting room, or getting my hair done.  I try to read at bedtime, but...zzzz...I fall asleep so fast that I haven't had time to process the paragraph or two I managed to skim and I wind up re-reading the same pages the next time I squirrel a few minutes away with my book.

I love, love, love public libraries.  But, with my children grown, my weekly excuse to hurry up and read my books, moved out of the house.   I just am not reading fast enough to justify the extension request and late fees...sorry to say.  I have resolved though to visit the library once a week, to get myself out and about...not hang around the house so much...give myself permission to put off that load of laundry until tomorrow...let's hope that this little personal indulgence is stronger than domestic diva guilt.

Technology doesn't help.  I spend too much time on the computer, surfing the web, chatting with friends on Facebook, updating my Linked-In account and of course writing posts for my blogs.  I do read a lot on the stories, food and recipe sites, reviews, other people's blogs...but it doesn't feel quite the same...kind of like reading newspapers and magazines isn't  really reading...instead it is information gathering.  Splitting hairs but that's how I feel.

In recent months, many of my friends (who are turning the corner into another decade) have been thinking about reading...and their future method and mode of reading...queries about e-readers...Nook, Kindle, iPad and other tablets/notebooks or electronic thing-a-ma-bobs.  I have to admit, I am curious about this too.  We forced our eldest daughter, a world traveller to own a Kindle, by giving her one for Christmas...she would pack about 20 pounds of books for her trips abroad and this left little room for essentials like travel sized toothpaste and underwear.  She was most reluctant, but after a time, saw the luxury of clouds of books.  She still loves the feel of pages, so when she's home, she reads and re-reads many a tome.

Back to my peer group...I have read their fb conversations about which e-reader to get..."Is this one back-lit?"  "Can you down load magazines on that one?"  But in almost every case, the deciding factor is..."Can I increase the font size so I can see the words? "  Yup, who needs drugstore reading glasses when you can increase the size of the words!! Who wants to be spotted with the obvious LARGE PRINT edition of anything?  And yes, aside from the fact that if I get a tablet, playbook, notebook that fits in my bag so I can blog on the go...I am vainly intrigued about not having to wear my dopey .75 readers...not even a full 1.00... point 75!  Ugh.

The rest of the world seems to like the idea of plucking great literary works from the ether and storing them there.  Our local library has an account for people who want to download books.   I dunno.  I was brought up to value books; their heft, the feel of the page, that book smell.  My home is filled with packed bookshelves.  All the  nightstands in my house have books on them...even in the guest rooms.  A home library is a precious thing...a measure of wealth...of knowledge, time and yes money.  I love loaning books to friends...but if I switch to an e-reader, that joy will be diminished.

Even some restaurants are changing the menus we read...iPads are showing up with pictures of the day's choices and patrons touch a pad and boom...their filet mignon, medium rare is on its way.  I am too old fashioned.  Pouring over a menu, better yet, looking at a hand-written chalk board of choices...there is a familiarity, a sensory connection to the people offering you a meal....the "oeuvre"/masterwork of their hands. Talking to wait staff is one of  my favorite things to do when dining out...discussing the specials, asking about staff favorites and is all a part of the ambiance. If computers are going to supplant service this way, I am not so sure this is an improvement and it certainly won't be my idea of dining out.

So...if video killed the radio star, will e-readers kill book stores, libraries, newspapers...all the tactile haunts of reading?  Am I contributing to the death of  actual print if I succumb to the 21st century call of the wild?  Will I read more?  Will I enjoy reading as much?  Will I get this app or that and find myself watching news, talk shows or movies  on my tablet/playbook/e-geegaw instead of reading? 

Irony of ironies...after I finish this blog, which I hope lots of my friends are reading read, I am scheduled to work for two hours writing my cook BOOK. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to School...Traditions Retained and Revised.

It is August 1st and I am itching to get into back to school mode.  My favorite commercial of the season (which I have yet to see this season) is the one with the dad coasting through the aisles at Staples to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"...the gloom-filled kids pacing along, swaying in time to the music... cracks me up every time! But the hitch this year is that my "student" child is soon to be 21 and back to school shopping with Mommy is not high on her priority list.  Needless to say, shopping with and for a college junior who'll be heading off to New Zealand second semester isn't the same as a high school junior for whom the color of three ring binders is crucial to trendsetting!

We have a list...most of which is set for a Costco run...bulk toilet paper (there are four girls sharing the dorm suite), printer paper and ink cartridges, hot cocoa mix,  instant oatmeal and etc...we may go clothes shopping for a few things for the cute girl on campus, but alas, she is old enough and certainly independent enough to buy her own wardrobe supplements.  At this age, buying clothing is more to keep things up to date and fresh rather than address the summer growth spurts of years gone by.  And what 21 year old woman want to go shopping for intimates with her mom? Awkward!

At this stage of the game,  back to school time is more about reassessing, revisiting and resolving.  I find that after twenty years back to school shopping mode, I am all about reorganizing and preparing for new routines.  This time of year is more like "New Year's" than January 1.  It certainly is more practical to set goals, assess your surroundings and make adjustments for transitioning from lazy hazy days of summer to the school days, schools days, dear old golden rule days.  Even with my nest emptying once again, I find that employing my back to school mentality helps me engage with my community and gets me out of the house! No more sleeping in until 8am....

In the coming days, those of us still at home will look through our desks for working pens and pencils in need of sharpening.  We'll double check the staples box and see if we need has been a few years since we bought staples.  There will be a sticky note check, postage stamp count and of course the drawers and files will be organized, refreshing our brains as to what's what and where.

One tradition that still stays the same is the closet and dresser purge.  Everything comes off hangers, out of drawers and boxes.  Shelves are emptied and large bins and bags are strategically placed around the room.  If it fits and is in good condition, it returns to its storage place (or packed for the trip to school).  If it has been outgrown or doesn't suit the wearer anymore, into the give-away bin and if I cannot get the stain out or the fabric around the hole is so threadbare that a repair is impractical...into the trash...although I pull off all the buttons to donate to Goodwill.  Based on what remains, I go out and restock undergarments, socks, basics like long and short sleeve t-shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans, a sweater or sweatshirt or two (we keep the house cool in the fall and winter). Sneakers are the big must have for each of us! 

We usually do a major revamp of Bill's work clothes and shoes...for a guy who works in an office, he can be a bit hard on stuff!  Back when the girls were young, we developed the philosophy that for everything new coming into the closet/drawers/shelves, something would have to go out...preferably to be handed down to someone who needs it.  I am pleased to report that this philosophy has stuck for both my adult children and they are thoughtful  about their purchases and generous to those who are without.

It is kind of husband rarely takes part in the clothing clean out and invariably he'll ask, "Where's my blue Patriots sweatshirt (or something along that line)?  You know the AFC championship one from 2001?"    I'll point him to the new 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup hoodie and he's happy...the disposed of, paint stained, out of shape faded talisman of yesteryear's glory forgotten for a while.

The turn of the calendar from July to August spurs me to "nest" clean, clear and organize.  My kitchen and bathroom cabinets are a key targets.  I check expiration dates on everything...tossing old spices and questionable coffee beans.  I crush old medications and put them in a clear plastic bag and set them in a safe place until the next hazardous waste or medicine collection day.  This preamble to my fall cleaning which usually happens over a long weekend in October...helps me recognize and hone my needs versus wants...and using the coupons from the past few weeks, I rebuild our stores for the fall and early winter.  I guess much like the rodentia in our yard, I am getting a little squirrely!

Later today, I'll be out on my deck drinking in the summer sun, with my notepad for lists and calendar handy to update appointments both professional and collegial.  I'll make note of sales and create the "care package list" for Em's return to University.  She has no say in what goes in is all about me still being Mom...wink, wink...and when she gets back to school, she'll find  among the prizes and treats, a few new pens, some Raisinettes, a new DVD or two,  new socks, practical, white undies...perfect for running and rock climbing and a hand written note wishing her the happiest first day of school ever !