All politics is local

When I moved back to Massachusetts nearly five years ago, I discovered volunteerism. I was 42 and had somehow made it that far in life without anyone ever asking me to be directly involved in a cause or an organization. I don’t know what that says about me, but I think that sometimes it’s best not to ruminate too much on every detail so I’ll let it go.

Joining a preschool co-op set the stage for my community involvement. Cleaning the classroom at the end of the day, taking out the trash, raking mulch in the playground, and marching in the town’s summer parade were expected activities so I just did them. Volunteering at the local elementary school was also something that seemed expected and, since I wasn’t working outside of the house, it seemed not too much to ask of my time.

Helping in the classroom, monitoring the lunch room, and observing outdoor recess was great. I take that back. The classroom was great. The lunch room was painfully chaotic and outdoor recess was a little too Lord of the Flies for my liking. That I found myself sweating and exhausted at the end of each hour suggested I might be a little too OCD for these particular jobs.

A self-serving benefit of volunteering is that it teaches you something about yourself. I’m not sure what it means in this particular case, but I did find that working at the school library’s circulation desk was the highlight of all school volunteering, and still is. I can’t explain the deep satisfaction I get from scanning book barcodes, but we’ll move on.

I soon learned that volunteerism is a slippery slope, and around this time the local newspaper — the Carlisle Mosquito — asked me to get involved. While reporters do get paid for articles, the rate is so low and the job so time consuming that it definitely classifies as volunteering more than anything else. Some pieces are delightfully short, while others require several hour long meetings, research and interviews, and test my capacity to absorb and communicate information. Here’s where OCD is helpful.

My first beat was the Board of Health (you can read all about that here) before I moved on to covering other town boards. Affordable housing became a big topic toward the end of my first year as a few housing-related boards began prepping for Town Meeting where they planned to ask residents to approve building affordable rental apartments on a town owned parcel near the school.

I began reporting on these meetings and, as a renter in a town full of home owners, soon found myself jotting down quotes that made me realize that for all my volunteerism, my perceived economic (and let’s face it, moral) status was suspect, and that of my children. It seemed that some people were afraid to let their children walk by rentals, while others explained that renters were not “involved in their communities,” and would pose a burden for the school. The message was clear in these meetings: renters didn’t belong.

The most shocking statement, which was voiced at Town Meeting (where the motion failed by a small margin), was that kids would ultimately feel bad by living in a town their families couldn’t afford. They would be ostracized at school. And while the statement did garner some audible gasps from the audience, no one stood up to counter it. My background in sociology was immeasurably helpful during this time and my kids learned a new word: socioeconomics.

NIMBY is a loaded term, but I discovered that even in an altruistic town full of well heeled do-gooders, it applies. The size of their collective heel also allows people to fight off unwanted projects in ways that other communities can’t by hiring their own lawyers, civil engineers, and hydrology experts. 40B became a topic that I would spend a lot of time reading about, thinking about, talking about, and debating. With mixed results.

At some point reporting on affordable housing became a problem — the problem being that I was decidedly in the “pro” camp. I began asking my editor to check my work for bias, and would leave meetings exhausted from biting my tongue so as to remain in my role as the official and neutral observer. Reporting on how suspect my family was by needing to rent, definitely left us reconsidering the town in which we had decided to live.

In 2014 I was asked by a friend and town official to join an affordable housing board. I knew I wasn’t joining a popular club, but thought it was time to put up or shut up. I’m not a joiner and my political leanings began and ended inside a voting booth on election days, but I’d already transformed who I thought I was so I gave it a shot.

Barely a year in there was some turnover on the board and I became Chairman. Why? The honest answer is that nobody else wanted to do it and the pause in the room made me uncomfortable enough to volunteer. To say that this was outside of my comfort zone is a gross understatement. Have I mentioned my pathological fear of public speaking? Even in groups as large as 3? There’s a reason I write, after all. I’m an observer more than a participant.

It turns out the squeaky wheel analogy is really true. Intellectually I knew that what I heard and observed during my tenure represented a small part of the town — the town in which I still live, now as a scuffed heeled homeowner. But the loudest voices do win in the end, they get the attention of the press, they get the attention of town government officials, and they set the tone for the community.

Two days ago I submitted my resignation, just three months shy of the end of my second term. Resigning was something I had been thinking of doing for months, but had resisted because I didn’t want to be a quitter, didn’t want to give up, and didn’t want to set a bad example for my kids. At some point it became clear, however, that it was time, and the lessons I would learn from this awareness also set an example for my kids. Just a different one.

If volunteerism teaches you something about yourself, politics proves to be a master class in self and community awareness.

I learned that generally people are good, but often not involved enough to seek the change they want.

I learned that while I’m much more political than I ever thought possible (aren’t we all at this point?), I’m better as an engaged spectator than a participant.

I learned that bureaucracies are truly awful things.

I learned that small town politics is the absolute worst.

I learned that if you are stubborn enough good things can happen.

I learned that saying “no” does work.

I learned that it’s possible to push yourself to do something that you never thought you’d do and come through the other side still mostly intact.

I learned that you really don’t want to see the sausage made.

But my biggest takeaway? I learned that making it possible for people to find suitable affordable housing in all kinds of communities — including and especially the affluent ones — is something that we all should care about if we consider this land of ours a society. And that ultimately building it, which we did in the form of a group home for nine intellectually disabled adults, feels absolutely amazing.

My interest in affordable housing hasn’t waned, I’ve just decided to take myself out of the ring. Advocacy can take many forms. And words are powerful.

A writing studio

Last week I signed the lease on a 285 square foot art studio on the third floor of a refurbished mill building in Lowell. I move into my new writing space on April 1. Perhaps the joke is on me.

The idea of renting a studio for writing came out of nowhere. One day I remembered the building from a feature article I wrote about some local artists and the next thing I knew I was sending an email inquiry asking about small studios. The lease had fallen through on a space and within a few days I was in for a tour and fell in love with it.

The windows, the brick, the floor, the history, and even the giant industrial heater suspended above seemed like the perfect place to finally do battle with my lifelong inability to produce regular writing. The only person that needed convincing was me.

I explained to myself that having a dedicated space that I could regularly visit without the distractions from my day to day life is just what I need. I added that perhaps I could even make enough money from this new writing to pay for the space in which I would now write all this writing. I made a persuasive argument and immediately handed over the security deposit.

But now that move in day is approaching I have my doubts. I’m starting to feel surprisingly self-consious about taking on a physical space for a mental exercise. Isn’t the idea that writing is something you can do anywhere? Any corner with a chair and table, at the library, or even Starbucks? It’s not like I don’t have space at home that I already pay for, but none of it was working. My head and all its noise travels with me.

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Nature vs Nurture

I have a complicated relationship with nature, particularly as it relates to my home and, in particular, because I’m a homebody. Over the years I’ve had the obvious encounters with the creepy crawlies you find in your living space on a semi-regular basis: spiders, ants, and other sometimes unidentifiable, but not shockingly weird bug specimens.

A townhouse in Texas offered my first anxiety producing experience when I found myself face to face with a Twinkie sized cockroach as it slowly squeezed its way out of my DVD player before lumbering across the carpet. The same house later experienced a pill bug infestation in the hundreds, which is far less traumatic than you would think especially if you refer to them as roly polies. A roly poly infestation sounds not entirely unpleasant and kind of like something the BBC would produce for babies.

As a lifelong arachnophobe, a rental house in San Jose, CA brought my first spider-induced panic attack when I discovered one the size of a teacup lurking on the wall. That it was basking in the bright green glow of a recently acquired plastic IKEA lamp only made it more terrifying. My reaction was validated when the creature induced a GASP! from my otherwise non-spider phobic spouse. Even the 5.9 magnitude earthquake we experienced a few months later—my first—in no way compared to the shock of that creature. It had had thighs. Hairy and muscular spider thighs.

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Quintessential Massachusetts

Ranking up there with fried clams, frappes, bubblers, blinkers, and clickers, a sighting of a Bathtub Mary is very Massachusetts.

 

The Virgin Mary in her grotto, as seen in a side yard in Hudson, MA.

The City of Spindles

Sometimes when you live near history, you take it for granted. I was reminded of that during February vacation when I took the kids to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I was aware of the various mills in the state and the company towns that formed around them. It’s also hard to miss what happened to them when the company pulled out and headed south for cheaper labor, a practice still very much in the news.

These mill towns still exist of course and in various states of economic stability, even after all this time. The buildings also exist and some communities have taken to revitalizing them. Lowell is a great example of this, with many of its former mill buildings now having a second life as apartments, lofts, office space, and art studios.

Because I get too distracted by my home life to write some (most) days, I’m even thinking of renting one of these studio spaces in the hopes that having artists around me–as well as the history–will prove more inspiring and less distracting than my two dogs and vacuum cleaner.

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A night in Salem

Other than a handful of news and feature articles and the occasional freelance job, my writing production has flatlined. There are a few things rattling around the inside of my head–an essay here, a short story there–but nothing that makes me want to carve out some time to write for hours. The inspiration just hasn’t been there. Then last night happened.

Thanks to Twitter, and my growing dependency on it, I discovered “Write like a girl: An evening of women in horror,” hosted at Salem’s Witch House and sponsored by Creative Salem, Witch House, and FunDead Publications, a small publishing house in Salem. The event was also a fundraiser, with ticket proceeds going to Safe Child Africa, an organization that assists children in Nigeria who have been accused of witchcraft.

Six female writers, published in a number of FunDead anthologies, read stories for 90 minutes, rotating between rooms on the first and second floor of the museum, the only remaining structure in Salem with a connection to the Salem Witch Trials and dating back to the mid-17th century.

I’ve been a fan of the genre since I was a teenager, but this was my first time attending a reading and I really didn’t know what to expect. Stepping in to a dimly lit 300+ year old house in Salem, with creaking floorboards and countless shadows, was escapism at its finest. And then The Widow (above) stepped in to start her reading. Bliss. I even was a lucky winner of two FunDead anthologies.

I think it may be time to try my hand at horror writing. I even have an idea.

 

 

Dance like nobody’s watching at Carlisle’s Friday Night Live

by Karina Coombs

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Brother and sister act at last month’s FNL. (Photo by Parissa Khayami)

[Reprinted from the original Carlisle Mosquito article found here.]

If you are in middle school and looking for a fun Friday night, Carlisle’s hottest club is FNL. Located in the gym and exercise room at the Carlisle Public School (CPS), and sponsored by the Carlisle Youth Commission, this place has everything: dancing, a professional DJ, snacks and drinks, basketball, ping pong, games, monthly theme parties and more.

First held in 1984, Friday Night Live, or FNL as it is known, is typically held the first Friday of each month from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and is open to Carlisle students in grades six through eight whether or not they attend CPS. Admission is $8 and snacks and drinks are available for purchase, with the proceeds from  both directly supporting the program. Registration is required for FNL and can be done online through the Carlisle Recreation Department. Students may bring an out of town guest provided the student’s parent or guardian stays as a chaperone.

An emphasis on inclusion when it matters

Middle school brings a lot of change for adolescents: new teachers, new responsibilities and expectations and new social pressures. Wanting to fit in and be included, such as invitations to social events outside of school—or a lack thereof—takes on greater importance as kids begin defining who they are apart from their families.

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Why I write for the Mosquito

by Karina Coombs

[Reprinted from the original Carlisle Mosquito article found here.]

It’s not often that you get a chance to  reinvent yourself and when it happens in your mid-40s, and you thought those chances had all but passed, you take it. Newly arrived in Carlisle, I first met the Mosquito’s General Manager Susan Emmons on the playground of the Red Balloon preschool. We talked about what it was like to live in a small town before she casually asked if I’d like to write for the newspaper. Without her knowing it at the time, she offered me the opportunity to pursue a dream I had shelved long ago, as well as a way back into the workforce after seven years of being a stay at home parent.

If you want to learn about your community, reading the newspaper is a good way to start. But if you really want to know how it ticks from the inside out, its myriad of boards and players and how they fit together, writing for the newspaper is the way to go. There are the big town boards to cover of course, followed by those lesser known before you get to the more obscure boards. Have I mentioned the subcommittees? Each of these is made up of volunteers: well-intentioned, smart and interesting people that make decisions every day about Carlisle and its 5,000 residents and nearly 30 million dollar budget. But for board members and a reporter (if one is available), these sometimes far-reaching outcomes and the debate that precedes them are made largely without anyone else in attendance.

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Nature and technology meet at Gleason’s newest art show

by Karina Coombs

09bKC RissmanScroll

 

A series of ceramic scrolls from Bedford artist Carol Rissman. Rissman makes each tile from white or red clay before imprinting or stamping them with natural found objects. Pieces are then fired and stained. Tiles are selected individually for each scroll and mounted on a wooden backing. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

 

 

[Reprinted from the original Carlisle Mosquito article found here.]

Gleason Library’s Art at the Gleason opened its first show of 2017 with “Affinity: puzzles, sculptures, and photography,” featuring the works of Carlisle residents Dale Joachim and Bill Claybrook and Bedford’s Carol Rissman. The show runs until March 25.

The beauty of found objects

Nature’s influence is apparent when looking at the ceramic works of local artist, Carol Rissman. Since retirement, as a broadcaster and news director for a local NPR station (in addition to writing and editing for a number of publications), Rissman has turned what had been a hobby into a full time endeavor, making both functional and sculptural pieces at the Harvard University Ceramics Studio where she is a resident artist.

Whether it is a stone, feather, leaf or some other natural found object, Rissman is attracted to the beauty she finds outdoors, incorporating it in unexpected ways into the mosaic and scroll tile pieces that make up her collection. “I’m happy to have this way of using them,” she says of the treasures she regularly picks up. Rissman’s pieces begin with handmade tiles, crafted from white or red clay. She then imprints or stamps them with these objects before firing them. A stain or underglaze is added before the tiles are fired again, with the high parts sanded to reveal the impression or pattern left behind.

Rissman explains that she never really knows what she is going to get when she opens the kiln and this surprise is what she delights in the most during the process. How do all these pieces come together? In the mosaic, “Juan de Fuca,” located on the first floor, Rissman’s use of glaze creates a distant image of water and trees on a white tile. Stones from the Olympic Peninsula are affixed to another tile below, with earthy colors and patterns on neighboring tiles adding contrast. A branch at the top of the piece adds another interesting natural element with all of the pieces creating a juxtaposition that allows the viewer to experience both a long view and bird’s eye view of one scene. Read More

A grand adventure with The Brass Sisters, before they come to Carlisle

Copyright 2016 Andy Ryan

by Karina Coombs

“I dedicated my waist to the first cookbook. I dedicated my hips to the second cookbook and I added a chin from Baking with the Brass Sisters,” says Marilynn Brass of her newest cookbook co-authored with sister, Sheila Brass. The Brass Sisters, as they are known, are the authors of three acclaimed cookbooks that incorporate their love of cooking, culinary antiquities and storytelling to explore the rich history of American home baking while immortalizing the individuals whose handwritten recipes they have thoughtfully preserved and updated. As featured speakers for the Friends of the Gleason Public Library’s annual meeting on November 17, the sisters will share delightful stories of food and culinary anthropology.

The answer is four

“We love what we’re doing and we never thought we’d end up like this,” says Sheila of their success. “We just always loved to bake.” Sheila and Marilynn began baking as children alongside their mother, Dorothy Katziff Brass, in their second floor Winthrop kitchen. The sisters can still vividly recall the creations that came out of their mother’s beloved cast iron stove with green enamel trim, the kitchen floor ever so slanted that cakes required extra frosting to make them level.

“Our mother was the Cake Boss of Winthrop,” says Sheila, referring to the popular television reality show featuring eye-popping cake designs. Marilynn recounts that in the 1950s, Dorothy volunteered to make a cake for a synagogue fundraiser, spending two weekends working on a card table to painstakingly recreate the family’s synagogue, down to the tile work on its exterior. When completed, the cake was so large and so heavy that it took four men to carry it down the flight of stairs. “We always joke,” she says, “How many Jewish men does it take to carry a cake in the shape of a synagogue?”  Read More

Women Who Will

I stayed up as long as I could this morning, but in the end I made myself go to sleep knowing what we would all learn eventually and trying to figure out a way to explain this to my daughters. They went to sleep thinking they would wake up to a bold new day: the first woman President of these United States.

You see, while we didn’t demonize Donald Trump in this house, we didn’t sugar coat it either. My kids know the things he says, the classes of people he has maligned and the things he’s been accused of. And because we’ve done our job teaching them right vs wrong, they know what he represents without us labeling it for them.

This morning I had to tell them that Donald Trump is our President-Elect and they sobbed. Because not only did their dream of seeing a woman President not come true, but at 8 and 11 they just discovered that sometimes wrong wins.

But as I try to reassure them that everything will be okay and no, the world will not end, I can’t help but be afraid of what this means for their future, for the things they may want to do, the people they may want to love, and the beliefs they may have.

If we’ve learned nothing else from this election it’s that there is in fact a slippery slope. Who knows where it will take us.

Short term? We’re all taking a “mental health” day from work and school, playing with dogs, eating dry cereal on the couch, and watching movies. Escapism at its finest. For today.

[Artwork from Jennifer Judd-McGee of Swallowfield]

I’m with her.

I like my women like I like my pantsuits. Smart and serious. #wendywellesley

 

Pineapples

[NOTE: My kids and I started a summer writing challenge: using a word or general theme to create some piece of writing each week. My 10-year-old suggested, “pineapple” and the following is my contribution.]

Wendy didn’t remember when it started. She only knew the story, one that her family liked to tell to just about every person they met. It was embarrassing and she felt like a freak, but even Wendy knew that her fear of pineapples was unusual and begged for an explanation. She had to admit the story was a good one. If it had happened to someone else maybe she would have told it herself. The videos? The family agreed on that one. They would never be watched.

“John! Do you have the list?” yelled Susan. She finished buckling the kids in the car and turned back to the house looking for her husband, wiping a bead of sweat from her arm. It was 94 degrees and a family trip to the grocery store seemed like a good idea if for no other reason than to spend time in air conditioning. The window units John and Susan had installed earlier in the summer had cooled the house for weeks. But as the temperature began to rise at the start of the August heat wave, the machines struggled to keep up. And when they began tripping the circuits—which required suiting up in protective gear to descend into the snake infested basement—they unplugged them completely and reverted to open windows, box fans, and family shopping trips.

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Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Show, 2016

Back when we were dating, my husband and I first went to the Brimfield Antique and Collectibles show. We spent hours strolling up and down the street and in and out of the tents looking for things that “spoke” to us. BrimfieldFair2016 3
We acquired an enormous porcelain industrial glove mold, an old glass hospital paper cup dispenser, and a metal View-Master projector. They are some of our favorites possessions and we’ve moved them back and forth across the country on a number of occasions.

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Peacock of Summer Past

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Philadelphia Zoo, July 2015.

Eastern Paint Turtle

TURTLEThis is the second summer in our house and living near water has meant spring and summers with a yard full of nesting Eastern Paint turtles. We’ve yet to ever see anything hatch and I’m not sure if that’s because they are so small, move in the night, or are completely devoured by predators while still in the egg. With the number of empty eggs and holes on the back lawn, the latter is probably the most probable, but I’m sure at least a few make it.

Photo of the Day: Tiny Toad

I found this tiny toad–about the size of a nickel–resting in the folds of a camp chair, outside. It was relocated using a coffee mug and piece of paper.

Photo of the Day: Fog

We’ve been in our house for six months now. Watching the fog rise off the reservoir and cranberry bog is never a bad way to start the day.

HitchBOT visits Carlisle

hitchBOT visits the Old North Bridge, Concord, MA. (Photo by Tracy McArdle Brady)

After two plus months of summertime fun, I got back to work. Here’s my latest feature (also found here). (Photo by Tracy McArdle Brady)

HitchBOT visits Carlisle and humans learn a lesson

by Karina Coombs

This past July, Tracy McArdle Brady and her family took part in a social experiment that was followed by fans, robot enthusiasts, news outlets and researchers around the world. For 24 hours they hosted hitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot from Port Credit, Ontario. As a follow up to its successful trip across Canada and parts of Europe, hitchBOT—unable to move without human assistance—was to travel from Massachusetts to San Francisco. The robot was destroyed in Pennsylvania after two weeks and 300 miles.

Can robots trust humans?

Created as both an art piece and social experiment by Dr. David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Dr. Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University, hitchBOT was designed to be an approachable robot that would offer a study into human and robotic interactions. While some have asked if humans can trust robots—particularly with the development of self-driving cars—the researchers posed a different question: Can robots trust humans?

“It really affected me when I read what happened,” said Brady, adding she was disappointed and embarrassed when news broke of the robot’s fate. “The goal of their experiment was to see if robots could trust humans… And apparently robots can trust humans in the Netherlands and Germany… Canada, of course, and he didn’t make it past Philadelphia. [We’re] so worried about technology and will robots take over…little did we know that robots can’t trust humans.”

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Giving city kids a summer to remember

My newest feature article from the Carlisle Mosquito. The link is here, with full text below.

Giving city kids a summer to remember

by Karina Coombs

Running barefoot through the grass. Gazing at stars. Falling asleep to the sound of crickets. When summer arrives, many children in Carlisle will experience these simple pleasures. But for some kids, these experiences are unimaginable. For them there is no grass, stars exist only in photographs and they have never been within miles of a cricket. For 138 years the Fresh Air Fund has been working to change this, placing inner-city children with families that can make the unimaginable, tangible. This year, the organization’s local Chairperson, Suzan Baldoumas, is hoping Carlisle families will join them.

The Fresh Air Fund

Reverend Willard Parsons started the not-for-profit Fresh Air Fund (FAF) in 1877. Parsons sought to provide fresh country air to impoverished children living in New York City’s overcrowded tenements, many suffering from Tuberculosis. Members of his congregation became host families and brought children into their homes for summer vacations.

Since then, the FAF has provided summer respite to 1.8 million low-income children across the city’s five boroughs. In addition to the 5,000 children who attend its summer camp programs in upstate New York, and educational camps and programs offered year-round, the FAF sends 4,000 children to suburban and rural communities known as “Friendly Towns” across 13 states and Canada as part of its volunteer host family program.
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Small business with big plans

My latest feature on a local entrepreneur can be found here. Full text below.

Small business with big plans

by Karina Coombs

Caitlin O’Connor knows a lot about brand management thanks to her time at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). Countless hours spent driving her four children to various activities has also taught her a lot about life in the car and given her time to think. While it can be a messy place, the minivan can also inspire big ideas. And in O’Connor’s case her big idea appeared at the intersection of her professional and personal life. She created a product for the car.

Cargo Tissues and Dispenser

O’Connor’s product is Cargo Tissues and Dispenser—a visor-mounted tissue dispenser that allows a driver to handle spills or runny noses without taking his or her eyes off the road. The dispenser is offered in two colors and refill tissues are sold separately—each priced at $9.99. Cargo went on the market in January. “As a mom and as somebody who now with four kids spends a ton of time in the car… Honestly, if I’m not spilling my coffee, somebody is sneezing or worse. It has saved me and helped make my life a little bit better,” she says.

Cargo is based on a car tissue dispenser that O’Connor used and enjoyed 15 years ago before it went off the market. “I had been thinking about it for years… because it was a product that absolutely fit my lifestyle [and] met my needs.” Realizing she could create a similar product as well if not better, O’Connor decided to take on the challenge, explaining it was a “leap of faith.” Cargo is the first of many products she hopes to release through her company, Acadia Brands.

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Jeff Bauman – A picture of resilience

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Bauman about his book, Stronger. My feature article can be found here: http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/feature/52-features/feature-articles/top-features/29034-jeff-bauman-a-picture-of-resilience.html

Full Article from the Carlisle Mosquito

Jeff Bauman – A picture of resilience

by Karina Coombs

As the world learned of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, a photo of Chelmsford native Jeff Bauman went viral. The graphic image—showing the 27-year-old in a wheelchair after the loss of his legs—served to document the day’s incomprehensible violence and the heroism of those who rushed in to help.

For those who recognized his face, however, it served as messenger. “That’s what gets me the most,” explains Bauman from his Carlisle home. “That’s how my younger brother found out. That’s how my dad found out. That’s how my mom found out. That’s how my best friends found out…”

Two years later, Bauman presents a different image—a resilient 29 year old, married and with an infant daughter, a public speaker, community volunteer and author of the New York Times and National bestseller, Stronger, written with Bret Witter and released last year. He is also walking.

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Counting to zero, one kilowatt at a time

My newest feature article. We’ve already started making the switch to LEDs in our house thanks to this: http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/news/28683


Counting to zero, one kilowatt at a time

by Karina Coombs

Residential electric rates have doubled since 1990, with the biggest increases in just the past ten years. In November, citing the rising cost of natural gas (used in the power plants that produce the electricity), National Grid increased its rates by 37%. NStar followed suit earlier this month and raised its rates by 29%.

While many are bracing for larger bills, Energy Task Force member Claude von Roesgen is having a decidedly different experience, thanks to his home’s photovoltaic system. Instead of paying for the electricity he uses, von Roesgen is being paid for the electricity he generates through 36 roof-top solar panels. But after decades of energy conservation awareness, the absence of an electric bill is not his end game. Instead, von Roesgen is focused on getting the building to net zero energy, helping to reduce his carbon emissions.

What is net zero?

A net zero energy building (NZEB) is an energy efficient building that also produces as much annual renewable energy on site as it uses. The building becomes self-sustainable, yet most NZEBs remain on the electrical grid for storage needs. With a vacation home that is already a NZEB, von Roesgen does have some experience in this area. Now he is working on scale. That is because his solar powered tiny houseboat, “TinySol,” at 128 square feet is smaller than the sunroom in his 2,800 square foot home. (See “The little house that makes a big impression,” August 28, 2013.) Read More

Walden Pond

A great thing about living next to Concord (Massachusetts) is nonchalantly getting to take out-of-town visitors – with literary inclinations – to some pretty great local attractions. On an unseasonably warm and sunny Monday, we made an outing to Walden Pond and hiked the trail around the pond to find the original site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. Not a bad way to end 2014.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Lobster tree

A December 26 photograph from the wharfs in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Merry belated Christmas.

A house with a view

After two plus years of renting in Massachusetts, we are soon to be homeowners of a 1930s New England farmhouse – all 1,500 sq. ft. of it. Let the renovations begin.

Merry Christmas, indeed!

Cranberry Harvest, 2014

This past weekend was the cranberry harvest at the Carlisle bog. A strange little berry, but it does make for a good photo.

Growing up in Massachusetts I took this for granted as a kid and just wanted the harvest to be over. That meant winter was coming and the flooded and frozen bog would become our personal and free skating rink. Learning to ice skate on a bog – with roots and twigs every few feet – makes a real rink look too easy. And a Zamboni, ridiculous.

What is old is new again (to me, anyway)

For someone who thinks she is fairly aware of trends – and is clearly wrong about this fact – I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of terrarium fever until this past July. It was a visit to a local garden store with a little money and time to kill that first brought them to my attention.

I ended up buying, Tiny World Terrariums by Twig Terrarium out of Brooklyn, NY and am now obsessed. This obsession hasn’t actually translated into the mass-production of terrariums I had anticipated, but I finally made my first one and was able to take the idea and translate it into an activity for a 9 year old birthday party. It also doesn’t hurt that we basically live in a terrarium and are surrounded by a large variety of mosses both on and around our house.

I’ve always loved miniatures and at 44 still buy the occasional Lego set. But I had no idea of the endless possibilities HO scale figures could provide and I think I’m more interested in acquiring them at this point than building with them. Although I keep telling myself that will come in due time.

The young man and the sea

I can’t take credit for the title – that was an editorial decision – but the rest of the piece is my newest handiwork after a two month writing break. My brain has been spinning non-stop since I wrote this article and I’m hoping that translates into regular writing.

http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/news/28137

Video Snacking

The Putter from shaun bloodworth on  Vimeo.

~ Now that’s a pair of scissors.

Found at This is Colossal.

WordPress Wonkiness

Just a word that this blog may be moving from WordPress at some point in the very near future.  I’ve been encountering some weird issues with it for over a month now where some days I can access it and some days it’s broken.  And even though I may not post as regularly as I should, the thought of it not working (or, horror of horrors, the content disappearing!) as designed makes me crazy.

I’ve finally managed to post, now let’s see if I can export the content!

Anyone else having problems?

Video Snacking

Valley of Dolls from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.

~ A resident of a small Japanese village replaces residents who have moved or died with handmade dolls. How weird it would be to just stumble upon this without any context, arts and crafts zombies.

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The Pact

She knew it was an unfair question the moment she opened her mouth. But it snuck out, accidentally or on purpose.

“Promise me you’ll take care of your sister.”

The urgency in her own voice was almost unrecognizable and she realized it was the first time she had admitted out loud that something was really wrong. Of course she and Grant had talked about their fears for their oldest daughter before, but only to each other and always at the wrong time keeping the discussion halted: a moment of panic after Chloe melted down again or in the early morning hours unable to sleep with the gnawing sensation that their child would end up helpless and alone, a prisoner of her own mind.

“Who will take care of her when we’re gone?” would repeat on infinite loop until Margot finally fell asleep.

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Video Snacking

More videos at Action Movie Kid

~ Talk about raising the bar for editing home movies.

One is the loneliest number

Everyone around me seems to be celebrating the arrival of warm weather. But there is one sad creature that is entering her spring seasonal affect disorder phase with each flake of melting snow.

 

Fan girl

Who knew that in my 40s I would get a chance to interview and write an article about a member of one my favorite bands? Certainly not me.

Feature Article: Morphine’s Jerome Deupree:

Video Snacking

Cat Raptor by We Are Camera Studio

~Context is everything.

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Birth of a Snowflake

snowtime from Иванов Вячеслав on Vimeo.

~ Beautiful (and tiny) time-lapse.

Found at Colossal.

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Stone Zoo, Stoneham

Today’s zoo trip was to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. The facility is managed by the same organization as Franklin Park and one membership gets us into both.  It’s a funny little zoo and I ended up liking it a lot.  It’s on the small side and set across from a residential neighborhood on one end and what I assume to be a reservoir on the other.  We all agreed it would be amusing to look out our living room window and see a snow leopard across the street or Mexican  wolves – both of which faced homes.

The animal enclosures are set throughout a very wooded area with streams and wooden walkways.  One section is entitled “Treasures of the Sierra Madre” and consists of animal enclosures with an “old timey” gold mine aesthetic.  Picture a jaguar in an abandoned mining camp and lizards resting in the store display windows of a deserted mining town.  It’s totally weird and a little rundown, but charming all the same.

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Franklin Park Zoo, Dorchester

With one of the kids sick and school vacation coming to a close we decided to go to the Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester.  The germs would be free range, if not the animals.  It’s been well over a decade since I was last at Franklin Park and while it looks better than it did back then, I realize I’ve been spoiled with some pretty amazing zoos these past years: Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fort Worth (though the latter was a little over branded for me with the Cheetah exhibit sponsored by Cheetos).

While his roar was fantastic, the lion today looked a bit weathered and may or may not have had a cataract (or two).  And the gorillas?  I don’t remember them looking so sad or having such a strong urge to rescue them.  They looked dirty, displaced, and depressed.  I have a love/hate relationship with zoos on a good day, but the gorillas I saw on the west coast did not behave like these. The ones in Denver had a some anger issues and a certain western swagger, but otherwise seemed very well cared for.  Perhaps it was just the setting and I caught them on a sleepy day, but today’s gorilla enclosure did not leave a favorable impression.  Nor did the smell.

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Video Snacking

Clip by Fernando Livschitz at Black Sheep Films on Vimeo.

~ If only.

Found at Colossal.

Up to 6″

I clearly heard up to 6 inches of snow predicted for today. We’re at 8 and counting.  It sure is beautiful, but maybe even I have had enough for one winter.

Feb18snow 002

Jenny Pond Park, Plymouth

A swan and ducks on a winter day.

Photo of the Day

Caught by surprise (a pleasant one) by this morning’s snow storm.

Update: Here’s another photo of our barn taken by a local photographer for last week’s paper: http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/photos

2013 in Photos

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Happy New Year!

Christmas Eve

Our house elf lets his hair down with Christmas approaching.

 

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