Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Don't Ask for Whom You Pay Tolls

Speaking of New England drivers, Brian McGrory's piece in today's Boston Globe about New Hampshire's failure to install EZPass readers in time for the summer season is a hoot. (I'm quoting liberally here because the link will become pay-only in a few days.)
Understand, virtually every other state up and down the Eastern Seaboard grabbed hold of the technology years ago, such that a motorist can drive from Maine to the southern tip of Virginia without ever having to stop to pay a toll.

Except in New Hampshire, where the state slogan shouldn't be ''Live Free or Die," whatever that means, but ''Sit and Wait, Sucker." Every summer weekend, the traffic slows to a crawl at the Hampton tolls, backing up for 3, 4, 5, or more miles, all because the state looks at E-ZPass like some futuristic endeavor they can't possibly comprehend.

I called up to the state capitol this week to ask why. I half expected the governor, John Lynch, to climb atop a telephone poll, one peg at a time, and talk to me with the receiver in one hand and the mouthpiece in the other. Instead, his spokeswoman, Pamela Walsh, summed up the delay in one word: tokens.

Most New Hampshire people use them, and benefit from the 50 percent discount they get. E-ZPass, because of the costs to administer it, would offer residents only a 30 percent break.

''He doesn't want to barrel ahead on this," Walsh said.

Tokens? Barrel ahead? If these people had been around in the 1700s, we'd be playing ''Hail to the Chief" for Tony Blair. Do the people of New Hampshire still use quill pens and parchment? Do they watch 13-inch black-and-white Philcos? Do they use outhouses?

Oh, well. Maybe drivers can use the time sitting at the Hampton tollbooth backup to study up on their driving rules and regs.

Why I'm Staying Home from Now On

If anything would drive a person to become a hermit in New England, this item from CNN.com may be it.

The GMAC Insurance National Driver's Test found that nearly 20 million Americans, or about 1 in 10 drivers, would fail a state driver's test if they had to take one today. GMAC Insurance is part of General Motors' finance subsidiary, GMAC.

More than 5,000 licensed drivers between the ages of 16 and 65 were administered a 20-question written test designed to measure basic knowledge about traffic laws and safety. They were also surveyed about their general driving habits.

Drivers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states did worst. Twenty percent of test-takers failed there.

The state of Rhode Island leads the nation in driver cluelessness, according to the survey. The average test score there was 77, just eight points above a failing grade.

Those in neighboring Massachusetts were second worst and New Jersey, third worst.

Now, when I complain about my fellow road warriors' lousy driving habits, I'll have some statistics to back it up. I learned to drive in Virginia (16th best on the list), so you're all safe with me.

Fortunately, our traffic is so bad that we also have the lowest highway fatality rates in the nation. Thank goodness for small blessings!

Happy Birthday, Amanda!

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (of Yarn Harlot fame) has some beautiful things to say on the occasion of her daughter's 16th birthday. My son still has a few years before hitting 16 (thank goodness--he's growing up fast enough already!). If you have kids, know kids, or just used to be a kid, read it--you'll recognize something of yourself or your child in what she says.

Today, Amanda is a worldly, lovely, decent human being that I like a great deal. (I think the fact that I really like my kid is worth noting.
I am honour bound by the international code of mothering to love her. No matter what she does, no matter who she turns out to be and no matter how much laundry there might be on the way, I have to love her, and honestly....I don't know how I would stop...but liking your kids is optional, and I like her anyway).

Today I'd like to offer Amanda my personal congratulations for surviving 16 years of dodgy mothering. My baby, my funny child, my sweetest first is sixteen years old. She is no longer anything I can call a child, no matter how desperately delusional my hopes are. She is the beginnings of a young woman....and I am going to need to begin to let go a little bit.
Stephanie is about so much more than knitting--she's a fine writer no matter what the topic.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Disagreeing with King on Pop

I saw two movies this weekend: the remake of The Longest Yard and Madagascar. (Haven't done a two-fer for a while. Heck, when I was in graduate school, I sometimes saw three films a day. Radio-TV-film major. Homework, ya know.)

In this week's Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King's monthly "Pop of King" column discusses the movies he predicts will be either hits or flops this summer. As of press time, he hadn't seen any of the films, but at the top of the list is a little sleeper of a film called Revenge of the Sith. A little further down is The Longest Yard, which he believes will be one of the smashes of the summer.

Meanwhile, he predicts that the animated Madagascar will flop big time. One of the main reasons: No one can pronounce the name.

This is one time when I must beg to differ with Mr. King. Now, I LOVE Stephen King, and not just because he's from Maine, one of our more prominent New England states. In fact, I would gladly put Stephen King in an SFNE category of his own. I mean it. I think he was robbed of a Pulitzer Prize for The Green Mile.

But I think he's called this one wrong. The Longest Yard, although a seeming shot-by-shot remake of the original, just proves that Adam Sandler is no Burt Reynolds. (And that's not necessarily a bad thing--Sandler didn't slap some poor assistant producer at CBS last week.) But I believe that if LY makes money, it will be because Sandler has a big fan base. It's not a bad film, just a mediocre one, but once the word of mouth starts spreading, I think this one will see a big drop-off in box office. Chris Rock steals all his scenes, by the way.

Madagascar, on the other hand, while no classic (DreamWorks Animation still can't hold a candle Pixar when it comes to screenplays), it's enjoyable, funny, and beautiful to look at. And believe me, after 10 months of advertising, there's hardly a kid in America who can't pronounce Madagascar. Heck, there's probably not many kids left who couldn't pick it out on a map. The audience, both parents and kids, really liked it. (Coincidentally, Chris Rock voices one of the lead animals. The guy can't lose this weekend.)

Granted, I had the advantage of actually seeing the films in question, although I would have predicted the same outcome based on the two film trailers. I'm an ace at picking winners and losers (especially losers) based on their trailers. I also didn't stick my neck out making box-office predictions in a national magazine. (Although anytime Entertainment Weekly wants me to, I'm ready. Yo--email me, please!) Nevertheless, you're hearing me say it now: Stephen King, you're wrong this time, Bud.

But, damn, I'll never write a book as great as The Dead Zone.

Woburn Sandwich

When we first moved here a few years back, we spent our first week at an all-suite hotel in Tewksbury, because our apartment wasn't ready yet. I arranged an interview with an agency in Boston that handles editorial and communications specialists.

Tewksbury, however, is pretty far from Boston, especially when you're completely ignorant of the terrain. I wasn't prepared to drive downtown yet, so I figured I'd give the famed Boston transit system a go. I asked a friendly waitress at our hotel the directions to the closest commuter train station.

She was eager to help and gave me detailed instructions on getting to the station in Reuben. "Reuben?" I repeated back to her. She again said, yes, Reuben--you can't miss it. I smiled, thanked her, and went back to our room completely baffled. Jim recommended that I follow I-93 South until I saw (A) a sign to a commuter train station, (B) a sign to Reuben, or something like it, or (C) preferably a combination of the two.

The next morning, I drove down the highway mumbling "Reuben, Reuben, Reuben" to myself. Suddenly, I came to an exit for a commuter train station in WOBURN. Rhymes with Reuben. Not pronounced Woe-burn, as I had said in my head through all 500-plus pages of A Civil Action while reading it during the 1990s.

"Reuben! I mean, Woburn!" I yelled to myself as I took the exit. (I believe the Woburn station is properly known as the Anderson Rapid Transit Center.) From there, getting downtown was cake. Or better yet, a big juicy sandwich with 1000 Island Dressing.

And thus began my first real introduction to the R-less world of the New England accent. Next up: Medfud, Bedfud, Ahlington, and Andovah. And thank goodness none of you ever had to hear me mangle Billerica. Say it with me: Bill-RICK-A. Bill-RICK-A.

And once again, I was living in the land of "You're not from around here, are you, honey?"

Thanks, Halley!

Halley says very nice things about me here and here on her blog. I wanted to thank her on her site, but once again her comments section is a little off-kilter. You may have heard of her before, because she's one of the original, early bloggers (quoted in Newsweek, for frak's sake!). In fact, I'd have to call her the earliest of bloggers, because of her amazing ability to get movin' before 5 a.m. every day!

She also told me how to add a site meter to my blog. Right now, because I just added the feature--which means it's counting from zero today--it has a pitifully small number of page views recorded. Don't look, really. It's a little embarrassing. Really.

Hey, stop that--I said, don't look! I'll let you know when it's safe.

On the Matzo Ball Trail

Although my married life has been spent in suburbs--first suburban Washington D.C., now suburban Boston (I can't exactly count Lubbock, Texas, because the whole town is only 200,000, so the concept of "suburb" doesn't really apply)--my husband and I have always prided ourselves on learning our way around the "big city" part. (Many people don't do this, by the way. I was always amazed how many people in suburban Virginia assured me that they "never" went into the District itself, as though I were supposed to be impressed.)

Our forays usually, though not always, involve me driving and Jim navigating, at least for the first couple of years in a location. Until I really know the lay of the land, I'm not so good with the maps--I have this bad habit of pointing to where he should be turning instead of giving verbal commands. Which, if you've ever driven, you learn isn't very effective, since I hope you're keeping your eyes on the road, not looking at the passenger next to you. By now, however, he trusts me enough with the map to let me take over the navigation once in awhile.

So, we've been conquering the streets of Boston by car, bit by bit. Our latest triumph has been finding the most direct route to from Lexington to Brookline (that's immediately adjacent to Boston, for those of you reading this outside the area). Specifically, we've been discovering Coolidge Corner, which has both a really cool independent movie theatre and some great restaurants and shops. This morning we ate at Zaftigs, a wonderful "new-Jewish"-style deli (i.e., they serve bacon made of pork, not turkey). We've eaten there several times now and although I try something different every time, I never fail to get the chicken soup with matzo balls.

The matzo balls are the only restaurant version to compete with my mother's--light, fluffy, generous in size. (Full disclosure: my husband actually makes better chicken soup than my mom--sorry, Mom!--but her matzo balls are unbeatable.) Plus, an extra one costs only 50 cents, which is almost unheard of in the deli world. I'd say a buck-fifty is the usual cost at most delis, and their matzo balls are never this good.

On the other hand, Zaftigs' sandwiches violate the "never eat anything bigger than your head" rule, so be prepared to take some home. And on the weekend, be sure to come early (before 10 a.m.) or late (after 3 p.m.) or you're in for a long, long wait.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Meet Me in St. Louis--for Custard

I made a lightning fast trip to the outskirts of St. Louis this past week--in and out in less than two days. I didn't get to see much of the city, since I spent my time across the river in west-central Illinois, but you get a good look at the Arch on the way to and from the airport.

I must say it's darn impressive. It's right there smack in the middle of downtown St. Louis, not out on the prairie in a separate theme park. I think we should get one for Boston. We can put it near the Zakim Bridge, the most beautiful bridge in America. But instead of calling it the Gateway to the West, we'll call the Boston Arch: Gateway to a Lot of Overpriced Real Estate.

But what I really want is a Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand. New Englanders eat more ice cream per capita than anyplace else in the country, and we have some good ice cream around here. Nevertheless, my friend Ruth, a St. Louisan currently exiled to Dallas, raves and raves about Ted Drewes, Ted Drewes. How good could it be?

Dear Readers, it's that good. And in many ways, simple. The secret to Ted Drewes is taking really good vanilla ice cream (okay, frozen custard--whatever) and stirring it gently (paddles attached to a power drill) till it's soft but not liquid. Then the servers mix in any number of fine incredients and make what's called a "concrete" (you can choose one of their pre-selected combos or pick your own). I chose a Fox Treat--custard with fudge, raspberries, and macadamia nuts. Oh. my. god. Ice cream heaven. I know that Marble Slab and such places do "mix ins," but there was something exceptional about this. Probably the quality of the frozen custard.

My host and hostess (a person from work and his wife) kindly drove me 20 miles each way to get my fix when I told them how Ruth said I must try it. They also told me sometimes the lines stretch a hundred deep in the height of summer--which I believe. Sue had her concrete with pieces of fresh apple pie mixed in. Mmmm.

According to the Ted Drewes website, the company will not expand and will not franchise. So I'm asking the sellers of ice cream in New England to take the next plane to St. Louis, head out to a Ted Drewes, and watch the guy with the drill and paddles soften the ice cream. Also, grab a menu because I'll need you to learn the ingredients for the Fox Treat. Then, head back here and for goodness' sake, start mixing!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I, the Jury

In the last 10 years, I've been summoned to jury duty four times--three times in Texas, once here. The first three times, I was the main caregiver to a child under 10 (my son wasn't even in kindergarten yet), so the State of Texas kindly allowed me to defer service, and ultimately I made it out of the state unscathed.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts caught me, however. (I do wonder what makes me so lucky--my husband has never been called for jury duty. Not once. And he registers to vote, pays his taxes, etc. Hmmmm.) In fairness to the state government, they give you something like three months' warning, so I was mentally prepared to serve. Sort of. I wasn't really prepared to serve the same week I had gone up and back to St. Louis in two days (for work) and gotten back at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning thanks to the monsoon-like conditions that caused every plane flying to the Northeast to be delayed.

I got up at 5:30 Thursday morning, drove to the T stop at Alewife, got off at Kendall Square, and promptly started heading the wrong way out of the station. What should have been a 1/2-mile walk became a 1 mile walk with little time to spare. It's amazing how many brilliant people who frequent the environs of MIT have NO IDEA WHERE $%^&* THIRD STREET IS. (I know, I know--the lack of road signs. I was supposed to know where I was.)

On the brighter side, who knew that the darling waterproof tote I bought in the St. Louis airport would prove to be handy only 30 hours after arriving home?

For the second time this week, I became adept at the art of waiting in marginally comfortable chairs. At least at the airport, you can go buy cheesy "I visited the Arch!" snowglobes. On the other hand, maybe I'm onto something: How about "My Wife Was Called to Jury Duty at the Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge, and All I Got Was this Lousy T-shirt"?

About 75 of us waited patiently all morning. And I do mean patiently. You've never seen such a calm, quiet bunch. When we had to move to the main jurors' room to watch our orientation film, everyone just quietly picked up their books, newspapers, and coats and moved. I once had a boss from Iran (darling guy) who commented that Americans were really good about lining up quietly for stuff--no pushing, no shoving, no shouting--much better than Iranians (his words). I don't know whether that's a good thing exactly, but it certainly made for a civil experience in the courtroom (pun intended).

Coming in, I was like most of my compatriots--interested mainly in minimizing the likelihood of actually sitting through a trial. I work full time, have a family, volunteer for the PTO, blah, blah, blah. But then we watched the film--which features one of my heroes, Mass. Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall--and I began to daydream: What if I was the deciding vote in a major criminal case (one lasting no more than two days, of course--gotta get back to work)? Better yet, what if I were the foreman? (Foreperson?) Would I be like Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men--a beacon of righteousness and logic facing an angry mob?

Film over. Back to waiting. They told us that two criminal cases might indeed be empaneling juries that afternoon, but we wouldn't know for a few hours. Sam Waterston--were you in my future?

More waiting. Lunch. Finally, they told us that the two cases were settled. (It turns out the threat of a mob of impatient--yet quiet--potential jurors waiting to be empaneled leads to a lot of cases being settled.) We could go.

Poof! No Sam Waterston. No Henry Fonda. Just my little constitutional part in serving the American justice system. Civic duty discharged.

See you in three years, Sullivan Courthouse! Please have a selection of t-shirts and snowglobes waiting.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Good Reason to Be Crabby!

It's soft-shell crab season again, which means summer is almost here. To really appreciate them, try them sauteed with butter and toasted almonds. But you must get them fresh, which means live (like raw clams or oysters). Do not buy them pre-cleaned--there's no way to tell how old they are at that point. According to my hub, they're quite easy to clean and prep once you know the technique.

We first ate them prepared this way at my favorite restaurant, L'Auberge Chez Francois, in Great Falls, Virginia. (I haven't been in several years, since I no longer live in the D.C. area, but I hear it's just as wonderful as ever.) I'd only had softshells deepfried before that meal--and what a revelation!

Now we wait for softshell season and buy them at Roche Bros. grocery store for about $2.99 apiece. With some asparagus and a nice salad, it's the best of late spring eating. Also, most softshells come from the mid-Atlantic region, particularly Virginia, so it's like a little bit of my old home in my new home.

Spicy Food--NSFNE

I was fortunate to have dinner Saturday night with friends. The menu featured Thai food, starting with a wonderful hot-and-sour soup. To my palette, it was the best kind of spicy--hot, with a mellow afterburn, but no actual pain. Except for the fact that numerous other wonderful dishes awaited, I can say with some certainty that many of us would have gladly had several bowls.

The soup raised a topic among my fellow diners that I've mulled over the last nearly four years: What New Englanders call "hot" food (as in spicy, not temperature) is laughably mild compared to much of the rest of the world. (I'm guessing Norwegian food is even milder, but having never been there, maybe I'm missing out on the habanero herring.) I've never been a big fan of super-spicy food, but my husband and brother love the stuff. My brother is one of those people who has a collection of hot sauce that rivals a catalogue of chiles and salsas, and my husband never met a tangy red chile sauce he didn't like. (He makes a pretty darn good one, too.)

During the six years I lived in West Texas, however, I did tune up my tastebuds to appreciate a little fire. Maybe it was the proximity of so many chile-growers or the excellent Mexican restaurants.

Well, good thing I was raised in Virginia (with native cooking barely hotter than New England's), because I've become once again so unfamiliar with actual spicy cooking that I've relapsed, and Ed's soup reminded me of what I'm missing. Now, when we have Indian food, I stick to the medium (sometimes even the mild, if my stomach isn't in a good mood that day). In Thai restaurants, I've fallen back on the mild (Thai places actually turn up the heat if you hint that you're interested). But the "hot" dishes in local Chinese restaurants? Hardly. The almost complete lack of authentic Mexican restaurants (I'm not talking On the Border Tex-Mex) makes worrying about how spicy the food is almost moot. And when was the last time you had spicy fried clams?

On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Vote This Man into the Hall of Fame!

Though in no way a superstitious person--far from it--my husband has started believing that he's some kind of professional sports good-luck charm.

Here's the evidence: When he was a teenager in Pittsburgh during the 70s, the Steelers were unstoppable. When we lived in the Washington DC area during the 80s, it was the era of Joe Gibbs' original Redskins dominance. Move to Texas for awhile--can't stop the Cowboys. (Ironically, although he really doesn't follow football much anymore, his parents had season tickets to the Steelers for decades, so he's able to explain the finer intracacies of the game very eloquently. Which I make him do, of course.)

No sooner do we move to New England, then--you guessed it--the Patriots get started on that whole "dynasty" thing. And you all know what happened last October with the Sox. Obviously, the team just needed my guy to move to town. The fact that the World Series win took nearly three years after that to occur is obvious: The charm was originally designed for football, and it took a little while to catch on that another team needed him, too.

This is the first time in my life I've lived in a town with a major league baseball team, and I'm glad that we were able to help the Sox secure the win last season. So all you Sox fans, if you ever get the chance to meet my husband, be sure to thank him.

And Larry Lucchino, if you're reading this: we'd be happy with some tickets, a voucher for a few Fenway Franks, and of course--most precious of all--discount parking.

My Bro is Smokin'! (Not!)

Many good wishes and felicitations of the day to my brother in Baltimore. He hasn't had a cigarette since Sunday. I've never been a smoker, but I can only imagine how tough this is.

If you want to send good thoughts his way, please comment--he'll be sure to see your words of wisdom and comfort. Yes, he reads my blog. Because (a) he's my brother and he loves me, and (b) if he doesn't, I'm telling on him. Just because you're (well, WELL) past 10 doesn't mean you can't tell on your big brother. A mother's work is never done.

Right, Mom? Mom? Mooom? (--sound of crickets--)

Let the Farm Be with You

In honor of the last chapter of the Star Wars saga, an homage. Or perhaps better yet, fromage. Enjoy! (BTW, I have no idea how this plays without broadband access.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Caught in Music's Snare

My son went to the organizational meeting of a new junior fife and drum corps tonight. He already has the requisite colonial-length hair, so I figure he's halfway there. This is the type of group that plays at musters, Revolutionary War reenactments, and parades.

Listening to the team managers talk about the tradition of this kind of music--it's really folk music--I was really reminded again how lucky I am to be here, and how lucky my son is to have a chance to take part in a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. They compared it to bluegrass, something that's passed down through the generations.

I know the whole point of this blog is to talk all things SFNE, but really--when was the last time you saw a fife-and-drum jam session in Oregon or Arizona?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Frakkin' Great!

Next season of the new and improved Battlestar Galactica starts July 15. Ladies and gentlemen: Start your TiVos!

As an aside, Fox TV renewed Arrested Development for a third season. Wow. Just wow.

Midnight in Cambridge

Last year, at midnight on May 17, people of good will who just happened to be of the same sex started getting married in Massachusetts.

My husband, son, and I went down to the Cambridge City Hall to celebrate. (We even found free, on-street parking--a miracle! Clearly something important was happening!) The crowds were large, the feeling of joy nearly tangible. We brought flowers to give away to some happy couple--any happy couple--but so many others had the same idea that we practically had to beg someone to take them. All the couples waiting to get married had their arms filled with bouquets, mostly from strangers like us. Strangers of the "friends you just haven't met yet" variety.

I've been married nearly 21 years. Like most long-term relationships, there have been perfect times and imperfect ones. No doubt not all of the couples who married last May 17 or in the months since will last for 21 years. But some of them already had lasted 21 years--they just needed a change in the law to call it a legal marriage. Thanks to all you "friends I haven't met yet" for helping to make this a happy anniversary for so many people.

Blast Off!

Sky? Check.
Sun in the heavens? Check.
Civilization as we know it? Check.

Looks like we're good to launch.

Happy anniversary!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

SFNE Hope Deferred

Today my husband took his skis out of the Subaru. Poor guy, he was really hoping for an unseasonably late blizzard.

You Can Get There from Here, but Pay Attention

We went to Lowell today to volunteer some time at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention. What struck me as SFNE on the way: to get to the Tsongas Arena, you go about a mile-and-a-half off the highway--straight, not turns, just some curves--and the street name changes three times before you get there. Yep, short stretch of road, four road names. Thanks to the Tsongas Arena website for pointing this out, or we'd have been in a muddle.

Of course, I've noticed that on Massachusetts' streets, you're lucky to get a sign of any kind. One of my friends here put is succinctly: "The Massachusetts government doesn't like to waste your tax dollars on something as mundane as street signs. You're supposed to know where you are."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Knitting Nation Brings the Action to Acton!

Wednesday night, Michele and I headed to Willow Books in Acton, MA, for a talk, book signing, and knit-a-thon with the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Michele has a wonderful review of the evening here. (Don't you love that picture? I took it myself under intense time pressure--very long line for the book signing portion of the event that we didn't want to hold up--yet it came out well. It helps that both Michele and Stephanie are so darn cute!)

Stephanie is a dynamite blogger, even if you don't knit. Check out Stephanie's post about her visit to Massachusetts (this one and the previous one) if you don't believe me.

I'm just a beginner (as in learning to cast on and make my first stitches), and I was one of the few women there who didn't bring along a tote bag of socks, scarves, and shawls in progress. Yet I felt welcome. It's a pretty warm community, the knitting world. Also, according to Stephanie, a pretty obsessive one. Perhaps that's why she calls her book (her first--a second is on its way), At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much.

You may scoff at the idea of knitting drawing such a crowd, but consider this: Stephanie has sold 80,000 copies of the book in under a year. I guess she's got a good way with a yarn. (Sorry!)

Ahem. Anyway, Stephanie proved just as charming in person as she does on her blog--funny, self-effacing, passionate, and very Canadian. (Yes, she does pronounce "about" a little differently. It's true. Really.) Shall we make her an honorary New Englander? I, for one, vote yes!

And if anyone wants to here her story about "bakin' powder," biscuits, and Memphis, let me know. Especially any recovering Southerners.

T-minus 4 Days to the Falling Sky

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Could it be that, like Rick in Casablanca, we were misinformed that life as we know it would end if Massachusetts granted all consenting adults the basic right to marry?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

T-minus 6 Days to the Falling Sky

Hmm ... weather still looks good. No signs of celestial collapse, even though there are gay couples preparing to celebrate a year of marriage next week.

Ode to a Canopy

This past holiday season, my lovely husband gave me a combination Hannukah/Xmas/birthday present (my birthday's in early January) of a satellite radio for the car. Love it, love it, love it! Dozens and dozens of channels of music (three cheers to you, Richard Blade of Sirius 1st Wave!), news (including 3 NPR feeds), sports (the channel streaming Patriots' games automatically switches on just before kickoff), and--my guilty pleasure--an E! Entertainment Channel feed, which gives you the audio track to shows like "The E! True Hollywood Story." (My family doesn't know I listen to that channel--please try to keep it among yourselves.)

But I just discovered something particularly SFNE about my radio. When I pull out of the driveway, the satellite loses the signal. I'm not surprised to see the "Acquiring Signal" message come up when going into a tunnel or crossing through a long underpass. But this signal loss as I leave my house is new, only about 2 weeks old. What could be different?

I suddenly realized that the leaves on the trees lining my street had started popping out around then. Many of the streets in Lexington, including my own, have trees overhanging the road, nearly touching across the blacktop. This creates the effect known as a canopy--a suburban one, as opposed to the tropical-rain-forest type, but a canopy nonetheless. When I got my radio, the trees were bare, giving the satellite free access to the unit in my car. Now, as I pull away from my house, the confluence of leaves and branches briefly blocks the signal.

It's as if the satellite were momentarily confused by the abundance of greenery lining a busy suburban street. After about 10 seconds, the signal recovers its composure and my favorite early 80s Britpop comes roaring back.

When we lived in West Texas, I used to bemoan the lack of trees. Native vegetation grows at most a foot or two high, and any trees are the result of watering, good wishes, and more watering. But even my native Virginia, a place I've always viewed as greener than green (in the leafy tree sense), has few streets left with true canopies. Let's face it: canopies are a bit of a hassle. They interfere with utility poles. They're more likely to drop branches into the street during windstorms. (Even here, the town has to come through every spring and trim back any branches that might mess with phone or electricity.)

But I love our canopy. Driving down a street in the middle of the day with a cool shadow thrown over the road by the trees is a true New England pleasure. (As opposed to the days when the whole world is in shadow, because of the lack of sun--also SFNE.) You really don't understand the meaning of the word "dappled" until you've experienced the sunlight dodging the branches.

Now I kind of welcome the signal drop-out--it's a quick reminder that spring is here, finally. It's even worth missing a line or two of Roxy Music's "Avalon"--and that's saying a lot.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

T-minus 7 Days to the Falling Sky

It's a mere 7 days until the one-year anniversary of Massachusetts granting gays and lesbians the right to marry. So far, the sky has not fallen, but based on the rantings of some groups (sorry, no links for YOU!), perhaps we should expect something big next Tuesday, May 17.

So far, considering the noreaster we "enjoyed" this weekend, I'm thinking: If the sky were going to fall, that would have been the perfect time. But no. And today is bright and sunny. A perfect day for civil rights, don't you agree?

The Little Gentleman Speaks

In her comments here, Lisa says "My mother would kill me if I 'dropped a door' on somebody." I was commenting that, despite the greater surface brusqueness of New Englanders compared to Southerners, I've never met with anything but politeness while exiting a Dunkin Donuts. (Mmm . . . iced coffee . . .)

My Southern-born mother and Lisa's (New England-born?) mom must have been taking lessons from the same Parents' Playbook. My mother always taught my brother and me that when it comes to doors, the rule isn't "ladies first," it's "Whoever reaches the door first holds the door. Period." My brother and I took this to heart, which meant we often held doors not only for our own family, but for anyone else who happened to be entering or leaving a building at that moment. People always smiled especially nicely at my brother, who was often called "the little gentleman" of the family because he looked like an angel and had impeccable manners.

So it was with great pleasure that I often caught a look of fleeting shame and shock on the faces of those people ungracious enough to forget to say "thank you" to the Little Gentleman. Suddenly, out of that cute face would come the words (very loudly and with more than a little sarcasm), "YOU'RE WELCOME!!"

A few would mumble an embarrassed "thanks, kid" and a few looked annoyed, but they all knew they'd been caught. As the four-years-younger sister, I always looked on my brother with awe at those moments. Even now, sometimes, I still do.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Best. Fudge. Ever.

A couple of days ago, my friend Halley published a post about favorite cooking websites. I noted that while I enjoy the site Cooking for Engineers, the recipe for fudge can't possibly be better than the one on the back of the Marshmallow Fluff container.

This is sweet, sweet and SFNE, people. Made in Lynn, Massachusetts, for more than 75 years (something I originally learned on a Food Network show, actually), MF is the goo of which dreams are made. The recipe on the back of the container is pretty much idiot-proof, though it helps not to jump the gun on that whole "softball stage" thing, which the recipe--eh hem--fails to mention.

I've made it for the past couple of years for office parties, and more than one person has proclaimed it to be the best fudge he/she had ever tasted. I just smirk and mumble something about "an old family recipe." (So okay, it's not my family's recipe, but then I didn't say that, did I?)

More Fun than a Planet Full of Action Figures

One of my new readers (ha! you're all new--it's a new blog!), named David, made a nice comment here about divorce rates and New Englanders. David, a fellow Boston-area blogger, has a cool site called Katie's Papa. Aside from the fact that Katie herself is adorable (check out the nameplate across the top), David has some really interesting links and observations about photography and the visual arts. In particular, I love the stuff about Dr. Harold Edgerton (whose work you will recognize, even if the name is unfamiliar).

I also had to LOL at his post entitled Jesus Christ, which is about--believe it or not--several different lines of Jesus action figures. David lists a couple of mail order sources, should you be so inclined as to collect the whole set.

I'm also pretty sure I've seen some of them at one of the most amazing stores in the annals of SFNE-dom: Planet, in Camden, Maine. I couldn't find a Planet website (if anyone knows of one, please let me know!), but it's a store filled with an amazingly eclectic and fun selection of goodies. I dare you to go there without buying something. Really. I double dare ya!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Kris and Brad Forever!

This is not technically SFNE--Kris and her husband live in San Diego, and we've never met. But Kris, the sister of my friend Michele, is so persuasive about the charms of her husband that I've decided to name her an honorary New Englander. Ironically, Massachusetts--the bluest of states--has the lowest divorce rate in the nation, and I think these two kids are going to make it all the way!

The name of her blog refers to Kris's passion for knitting. Michele has been trying to teach me to knit AND purl. As one of the craft-impaired, this is much scarier than it sounds. Fortunately, she's very patient.

Dreaming of Wilson Farms

This is the most amazing place--and SFNE in the extreme. I feel very fortunate to have this in my town. It goes way beyond produce to things like fresh-baked bread, flowers (very good prices), jams, meat, and gardening supplies. Just be careful in the parking lot--people have a tendency to get anxious about finding parking (there's plenty, actually). You don't want to be responsible for a five-SUV pileup. Not pretty.

Wilson's is also the first place I ever tried Peanut Butter & Co's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter. Not made in New England, but delicious (and nutritious!) anyway. Mmmmm. . .

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Friendly Is as Friendly Does

I met someone today who asked me what I thought of New England compared to other places I've lived. "So how do you like it here?" is a question I've gotten numerous times in the last not-quite four years. It always strikes me as a little strange, because people from New England rarely seem to leave here, at least not permanently. Perhaps they'll try school in Michigan or Georgia, but somehow or other, they always find their way back home. Or as near to home as they can afford, which may be on the outskirts of I-495. They must love it here, or they wouldn't be constantly drawn back as if a homing beacon lured them.

Shouldn't the right question be, "So, you love it here, right?"

Anyway, this very nice guy said, "Well, I don't think we're as friendly as people from the South or the West, do you?"

I thought about it. He's right in that people in the West, in particular, will often greet strangers with a "howdy" or "hello." Then there's the famous "farmer's wave," where you waggle your finger tips from the steering wheel of your truck as you pass by another driver or someone walking by the side of the road. The bag boys at the grocery store are trained to ask you "how ya' doing?" and "nice day, don't you think?" I have some wonderful friends in both the South and the West--people I would do just about anything for. And in Lubbock, before debit cards became popular, everyone took personal checks--even McDonald's, even for a $2.50 Happy Meal. That level of trust is rare.

It's true that New Englanders are a little more reticent, a little less "have a nice day!" in their daily doings. Do I miss that casual friendliness of the South? Sometimes.

But then I think: In Massachusetts we have no death penalty (unless our governor has his way, that is--but somehow I doubt it). We believe in equal marriage rights. Going back further, this state--this region--led the abolition movement before the Civil War. I could go on, but you get the drift. (And no doubt there are counter-examples that folks more immersed in local history could tell me.)

Right now--things being as they are in the world--I'd have to say I'll take a little less "hello" from strangers in favor of believing that even strangers have civil rights.

(But ya'll could stand to smile a little more . . .)

Yes, That Was Me

If you saw someone on Rt. 3 North today (heading against traffic--heh, heh) in a navy blue Subaru singing along to T'Pau's "Heart and Soul," I hope you waved. If you did wave, and I didn't wave back, it was just that I was in the moment.

Nothing wrong with letting your inner rocker (or popster) out. Especially when you're alone. Don't want to scare small children or animals.

This Is Sad

Here I am, trying to establish my bona fides as a newly minted New Englander, and what happens? I take the Southerner Test and score an 82!! My friend Russ, as southern as they come, only scored a 65. A man with a mellow southern drawl--something I've never had--scored 17 points lower! Could it be my love of fishing and fried chicken? Okay, so I've never gone cow tipping (0 points) but I know what it is (5 points).

I will add, this test does NOT ask about political views. Given how red my home state of Virginia has become, I think I probably would have scored in the minus category on those questions.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Roads and Rain II

On the other hand, the vast spaces of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico didn't translate into the big homesteads you might expect. In Lubbock, a city of 200,000, houses (even the mini-mansions) were huddled together, barely 10 feet apart in many cases. The problem--water. Even in the semi-arid conditions, many folks insisted on having golf-course type lawns, lawns requiring constant--and costly--watering. It was wasteful and in many ways unnatural to see such verdant green in an area that got about 20 inches of rain a year, tops, usually in a handful of big showers. It also seemed ridiculous to see 5000 sq. ft. houses on tiny plots of land. All in an area surrounded by farmland that in many cases could be bought for a few thousand dollars an acre.

I will say this though--the roads were indeed wider and the parking spaces bigger. Perfect for your truck. And yes, I have one. When we arrived, we owned two Honda hatchbacks. But by law, if you don't own a truck in Texas, you must buy one. (It's just like that old Seinfeld joke about retirees and Florida.) It's now 10 years old and I still love it, hail dents and all.

Naturally, when we moved to New England, we bought a Subaru. Because there's probably nothing as SFNE as a Subaru, don't you think? God help you if you lose your car in a parking lot. If you can't tell one navy blue Subaru from another, consider yourself SOL. I've started distinguishing them by the sideview mirrors. The pre-2002 models are much smaller than the current ones.

Roads and Rain

In a comment to one of my earlier posts, the very observant Lisa said:
The use of space in other parts of the country is really foreign to me. In Denver the local roads look as wide as Route (Root!) 128 to me. I'm used to living places where I can go outside, touch my house, reach out my arm and touch my neighbor's house at the same time. The whole idea that anyone would drive three hours for anything used to astonish me; around here, you've already driven by about 85 versions of the thing you were looking for. Drive an hour or so north or south of where I am and you've left the state completely for Rhode Island or New Hampshire.
This is all true. When I lived in West Texas, my husband used to tell people, "In Lubbock, if you can't get there in 20 minutes, you've got to pack a suitcase." The nearest large cities were Albuquerque (6 hours to the west) and Dallas (6 hours to the east). Better have a full tank of gas and a full belly before setting out--some of those roads were a bit empty. My mother grew visibly nervous on a drive to Santa Fe once. She was convinced we'd be buzzard bait if we ever broke down on the road. We reassured her that someone would be along in a few minutes--there was only the one road, so everyone had to use it.

We now routinely drive to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for lunch or York, Maine, for an afternoon at the beach--both barely an hour away. Feel like getting away? No problem!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hug a Teacher for Those Who Can't

Today is National Teacher Day. My mother taught in the Virginia community college system for about 35 years. (Although not technically a part of the public schools as the National Education Association defines them--not K-12--I'm going to talk about Mom for a bit here anyway.) My mother taught English composition, public speaking, world literature, and so on--5 classes a semester (and before that, per quarter) for 35 years. She loved it so much she often commented that she would have done it for free. Although speaking as her daughter, I'm glad she got paid because (a) society has an unfortunate tendency to undervalue donated labor and (b) I needed new blue jeans.

She was the same kind of teacher as she is a mother: Warm, compassionate, intelligent, kind--and witty, with just a hint of sarcasm. Students still come back to her 10 and 20 years later to say, "You changed my life. I never liked to read before I met you." Her students--many of them the first ever in their families to attend an institution of higher learning of any kind--finally "got it" about education when they stepped into her classroom.

Because she taught in the CC system, her duties didn't include publishing papers to get tenure. Technically, she didn't have tenure, just status as a state employee. As the years went by and she saw how her fellow English teachers at tenure-granting universities struggled to find something--anything--to write about that would send them down the road to tenure, she would say she was glad "all" she had to do was teach. And work on committees. And advise younger teachers. And be a good shoulder to cry on for her friends when they had trouble with their marriages, their jobs, or their children.

In a way it's too bad, though,because she's got a very sharp intelligence and probably would have written something worth reading, even in the often unreadable world of academic research.

So happy Teacher's Day, Mom. It's totally appropriate that this holiday falls during the same week as Mother's Day. You've been the best at both.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Was It the Beans, the Cheese, or the Giant Garlic Tortilla?

Times are tough when a boy and his oversized burrito aren't safe at school. Around here, we'd take a yard-long lobster roll (toasted bun, of course), some steamers, fresh buttered corn, and cold beer and call it a party.

I've been to Clovis several times and can't recall ever seeing suspicious burritos. Evidently it's a good thing I don't make my living as a school security officer.