Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bending Over Backwards

I probably agree with Dan Kennedy somewhere north of 50% of the time. Even when I disagree with him, his writing is always clear and well sourced. But today I have no doubt he hit the nail squarely on the head. In his most recent column for The Guardian, Kennedy holds the United States Media’s collective feet to the fire. The title of his piece: “The Media's Vast Rightwing Idiocy”; subtitle: “America's extreme right is as vocal and irrational as it was in the 1990s and the US media is too spineless to stop it”.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Chuck and I went to get our seasonal flu shots today. Knowing there would likely be a crowd, we both brought along books to read. The line was indeed long. For about 45 minutes we shuffled along, noses in our books. Except of course when folks stopped to chat and to tell us we were smart to bring books with us!

: : If you live in Massachusetts you can locate a flu clinic by clicking on this link.

: : For other states, check out the Flu Clinic Locator over at the American Lung Association’s website. Because the ALA seems to be focusing on commercial based clinics at drugstores, you can also try Googling “public flu clinic” along with the name of your state.

: : If you’d like to learn more about seasonal influenza, as well as the H1N1 virus, check out It’s a very good, user-friendly website with a wealth of information.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Much Better

After a solid night’s sleep, waking to sunshine in the morning was a big lift to my spirits. Finding encouraging comments waiting for me in my e-mail put a veritable spring in my step. I thank you for that. I also managed to get to a sewing project today. Not unlike last year when I created a bag for us to use on short hikes, today I made a little case for our iPod to go in. I still need to find a piece of velcro to close the flap with, but it’s pretty good. I love working out the design and the process as I go along. Which, since I don’t love following recipes and patterns always feel as if they slow me down, winging it suits me just fine. Mind you, I really dislike ripping seams. Even when I use a lovely seam ripper like this one which I bought from Cynthia a couple of years ago on eBay. Happily, today I did not need to employ that beauty even once! All in all, a good day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blue Gray

Someone should tell me to “put down the keyboard and step away from the computer” when I feel like this. No it’s not political angst - although if I spent a nanosecond thinking about the topic I’m sure I could find something to post about. No, I am in a blue funk. I know I am overtired. I know it was a gray, rainy day today, both here and down in Rhode Island, where we went to see my Mom. (Because of our colds we had been politely banned from her presence for a couple of weeks!) My Mom did have some health hiccups over the last several days which had us worried. But while she seemed a little tired, Mom was generally in fine fettle. In fact, once she had hold of the shopping cart in the stores, if Chuck or I stopped for a second, we would see this blur of a little old lady in tennis shoes zipping down the aisle! That was encouraging and reassuring.

So I don’t know exactly what has me down in the dumps. But I am going to put down the keyboard and hope that a good night’s sleep helps get me back on track.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Freedom To Read

Thanks to Morgan I can pass along the fact that “Banned Books Week” began today. The very idea of banned books is deeply troubling. There are all kinds of books: good, bad, stupid, brilliant, lyrical, dense and ugly - some of them really, truly ugly. But the problem with banning books is: Who gets to do the banning?

Celebrate the Freedom To Read! Start at Banned Books

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bill Sparkman, Continued

I don’t know who killed Bill Sparkman, a part time employee of the United States Census Bureau. But as more information is revealed, the more it appears that the fact Mr. Sparkman was employed by the Federal Government was significant to whomever murdered him.

The cause of Mr. Sparkman’s death has been determined to be “asphyxiation”. He was found hanging from a tree, with a noose around his neck, but his feet were in contact with the ground. Roger Alford and Jeffrey McMurray of the Associated Press are reporting that Bill Sparkman was found “naked, gagged and had his hands and feet bound with duct tape”. The word “FED” was written on Mr. Sparkman’s chest with a felt tip pen. It was also reported that the murder or murderers had “duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag”. Additionally, his Census Worker identification badge was duct taped to the side of his neck.

I’m calling this murder for what seems to me to be obvious reasons. I cannot understand why, nearly two weeks after Mr. Sparkman’s body was discovered, authorities have still not officially determined whether his death was a homicide, suicide or an accident.

Was Bill Sparkman murdered because he worked for the Federal Government?
Was Bill Sparkman murdered specifically because of his work for the Census Bureau?
Was Bill Sparkman murdered because he stumbled upon some illegal activity, such as marijuana harvesting or a meth lab?
Was Bill Sparkman murdered for some unknown reason and the writing of “FED” on his chest and duct-taping of his Census I.D. badge to his body was done to misdirect law enforcement?

We don’t yet know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bill Sparkman

Back in 2000, in late winter and early spring, I was employed by the United States Census Bureau. I worked for a couple of months going door to door in rural parts of central Massachusetts for the Constitutionally directed enumeration of the population, which must take place at least once every ten years. As a family genealogist, I was interested to experience the work of an enumerator. I had blessed many an enumerator over the years for their A+ penmanship; as well as cursed many an enumerator for hen scratching and sloppy transcription of my ancestors names! But as it turned out, the most interesting aspect of the job was heading up and down dirt roads - including traversing a rickety bridge in one direction which was declared impassable by the time I tried to return - and seeing all the ways people lived their lives. The sociologist in me rose to the surface as day after day, the overriding impression I got from most people was a deep desire to be rooted somewhere. Whether it was a mobile home which rightly would be classified as a trailer, a modest wood-framed structure or an elaborate estate, people wanted their patch of earth to leave wild and unkempt or manicured to within an inch of its life. They wanted home - whatever house and home meant to them.

As I went house to farm to trailer, there were many empty homes, but just as many without people, but with dogs left outside guarding their master’s castle. I became quite adept at sizing up the canines and learned that extending my canvas barn jacket covered elbow, out the door of my little two door hatchback, gave any dogs that charged the car a chance to sniff me and catch the lingering scent of my English Springer Spaniel. I was never bitten and never driven off by any dog, but I was nose-butted in the back of the legs all the way back to my car by one determined mutt who had reached their limit with the stranger.

I found mostly cooperative, friendly people in my work. More than a few times I encountered elderly folks who were obviously lonely. After I asked my brief questions, they often were reluctant to have me leave. I was another human being, a friendly face and a change of pace. A few folks worried about me. They would cluck that the weather was getting too harsh for me to be out in, or I should be careful all alone on the back roads. Some folks were cranky or rushed or a little fearful of a stranger - even a 41 year old woman with a identification badge around her neck. I was always surprised when the downright rude people felt so comfortable to be insolent right to my face. And I was never surprised when the arrival of my willing ears led to the unbidden tumbling out of personal stories.

During the census training we were warned about what to do if we encountered violent opposition to our work. We were told it would be unlikely. That there were areas of our nation where there could be and had been problems. But it still came as a shock when one of my fellow enumerators reported having been run off a property at gunpoint. He was unharmed, but it changed the feeling of the remainder of our work. Coincidentally, shortly after that incident, with less than a week to go in our work, an editorial ran in a local paper disparaging the activities of the Census Bureau and claiming government intrusion into the lives of the citizenry. After that editorial ran, I encountered enormous resistance to the enumeration process. A remarkable number of people were cold and taciturn. I returned home at the end of long days weary, not from the detail oriented work, but from the social hostility.

Today I learned that a 51 year old man named Bill Sparkman was found hanged from a tree in Kentucky, with the word “FED” scrawled on his chest. Bill Sparkman was a part time field worker for the United States Census Bureau. Door to door Census interviews have been suspended in Clay County while the investigation into Mr. Sparkman’s murder continues. Bill Sparkman is survived by his mother and his son. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke described Mr. Sparkman as “a shining example of the hardworking men and women employed by the Census Bureau.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wild World

My sister Gail in Georgia and Morgan in Australia are trying to coordinate a bit of an international weather swap/equalizing. But considering how wild and wooly the weather has been in both areas lately, they’d best be careful. Mother Nature seems to be in a bit of a snit. Perhaps she doesn’t feel we made enough progress today at the United Nations Climate Summit!

Here’s the flooding update from The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
And the red dust storm update is from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This & That

: : The coughing and nose blowing which have been the hallmarks of this charming cold of mine continue. But I think it is safe to write that I am turning the corner on it. Unfortunately, Chuck is following in my footsteps. But he’s a couple of days behind me. I’ve also had a relentless headache today - probably from all the coughing. Blech!

: : I’m hoping the rainy weather down in Greater Atlanta, Georgia, where my sister Gail lives - and all over the southeast - begins to improve very soon. While they have needed their aquifers to be recharged, the relentless abundance of rain is too much of a good thing all at once.

: : On a far more cheerful note, I was “BlogLogged” over at Daily Worcesteria. I’m honored that Pink Granite caught their eye once again!

: : Here’s another good summary of President Obama’s Health Insurance Reform Plan. There’s a brief bulleted list and a four minute video. When you are contacting your Congressional representatives and The White House (which I’m sure you’re doing!) be sure to emphasize the need for a genuine Public Option. Thanks!

: : Ever feel overwhelmed by the enormous number of fabulous things over on Etsy? Then check out Etsy’s The Storque “Spotlight” section and click on any posts about their “Finds”. They lay out a lovely trail of artistic breadcrumbs for you to follow. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Grapes Grow On Vines - Right?

According to an article in today’s Boston Globe: “Massachusetts Winemakers Push To Sell At Farmers' Markets”. State Senator Jamie Eldridge, of the Middlesex and Worcester District, is described in the piece as the “lead sponsor of a bill that would permit wine tastings and sales at farmers' markets .” I think it’s a great idea. Wineries are an important part of the Massachusetts economy, its agriculture and tourism.

We love the farmers’ markets we go to. They offer an eclectic mix of fruits, vegetables, plants, eggs, meats, cheeses, preserves, breads and other baked goods produced by local farmers and small business owners. Allowing local wineries to present the fruits of their harvest would round things out nicely. A loaf of bread, a wedge of cheese, a bottle of Massachusetts wine, you and your favorite “thou” - sounds like the beginning of lovely day!

Do Not Pull The Shade

Last Sunday, I wrote that I believe the color of President Barack Obama’s skin is at the heart of some of the deep hatred and particularly vicious vitriol aimed squarely at him. I do not believe it is true of all of his critics. I do not believe that everyone who is critical of President Obama’s policies and agenda are bigoted. But I do believe that which we name as racism is powerful, in abundance and being wielded as bluntly as a machete and as softly as a pin prick.

On Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter stated that he believed “ overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.” Despite powerful push-back from the far right and a cautious, measured reaction from the left, President Carter continued to speak his mind.

Today, over on “The Root”, Sherrilyn A. Ifill wrote about what she calls “Jimmy Carter's Difficult Truth”. The sub heading reads as follows: ”The dismissive response from both Republicans and Democrats to the former president's comments on race shows why we need more, not less, discussion about the issue in America.”

The conversation continues...

Thursday, September 17, 2009


We came through today’s dental adventures in one piece, if not more than a little weary and decidedly lighter in the wallet! As we drove home, me with the roughness of my temporary crown relentlessly drawing the attention of my tongue and Chuck with his antibiotic-saturated root canal throbbing a bit, the dominant feeling we shared was one of gratitude. As we thought about our dentist, his assistant and the hygienist who popped her head in to check on us, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Adding to our sense of wonder was the fact that the endodontist Chuck met today for the very first time, had been excellent - a patient, careful, teacher.

My first dental experiences as a little kid were dreadful - not quite Dickensian, but scary, painful and involving what was likely the unnecessary loss of too many teeth. I finally got good dental care at the age of fourteen, but by then Dr. M. had to spend an enormous amount of time and energy repairing earlier damage. So, many years ago, long after I had moved from Rhode Island, I followed Chuck to his dentist. (Nothing beats a first hand recommendation from someone you trust.) Even so, my first visit with Dr. W. I spent trembling and weeping. That was sufficiently distracting to the dear fellow that he wrote me a prescription for Valium/Diazepam on the spot. Then Dr. W. had to retire for health reasons and in came Dr. D. (Oh no. Please don’t make me adjust to another new dentist!) But Dr. D. was fine - very low key and quiet. But soon the hygienist who understood my dental fears retired as well. Suddenly, we were going to a dental practice where the staff had experienced a huge turnover. It reminded us of the old joke about “This is my great-grandfather’s hammer. My grandfather replaced the handle and my father replaced the head.”!

But today, as Dr. D. finished up his careful work and explained what I should and shouldn’t do until the permanent crown was in place, I began to cry. I’m sure some of it was from the release of tension that the procedure was over. But mostly it was an overpowering sense of gratitude that Dr. D. is so good at his job. He told us that he went to dental school later than most, after making a career switch. Through my tears, I patted his knee and said how glad I was that he had changed professions. I was also rather proud of myself because this was the first time in more than a decade that I underwent anything more than a routine teeth cleaning without Valium.

That’s why, driving home, we kept focusing on how wonderful it was to have access to excellent, pain free, compassionate dental care. The fact that these folks are warm, well intentioned, human beings (and Red Sox fans) with good senses of humor makes it an embarrassment of riches.

No News... good news. Because of my cold, I called our dentist just now to let them know I’m sick and to ask for their recommendation about keeping my appointment. They asked about my symptoms and then gave me the green light to come in as scheduled. A part of me was a little disappointed. But I think I’m just as glad to get this out of the way. Happily, Chuck shows no signs of having caught my cold. So all of today’s fun activities will proceed as scheduled.

Note to self: We need to plan much better “fun activities”!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Think I’ve Reached My Quota

They say bad things come in threes. If true, I’m all set now, thanks. First, Chuck developed a toothache. So a trip to the dentist was in order. Because on our last visit, just a few weeks ago, they spotted a slight crack in one of my teeth, which the dentist felt would be a quick fix, we made back to back appointments. Chuck went in first, but emerged way too quickly. Verdict: a root canal is needed. Then I slipped into the chair. Verdict: not just a quick fix, I need a crown. All this fun and excitement continues on Thursday. Then, I came down with what I hope is just a cold - a very, very brief, low-impact cold. (Did you hear that Universe?) Although with news coverage of seasonal flu and H1N1 flu, I’ll admit to a niggling worry that it could be worse.

Tomorrow we were scheduled to go down to Rhode Island to visit with my Mom. Mom, age 85, stopped driving her automobile August 1st. While we are grateful Mom made the decision of her own volition, we were also all pretty concerned about how she would cope without her almost daily jaunts to the supermarket and other nearby stores. But she has done beautifully. Between family, friends and volunteers Mom has been getting out and about - so much so, that a couple of times we have had to put off our visits because she’s so busy! Unfortunately, my cold has thrown a monkey wrench into our plans for tomorrow. When I called Mom this afternoon I had to tell her I had a cold. Before I could elaborate she interrupted with: “I love you, but I don’t want you near me, dear.”!

So here’s to Novocaine, cold tabs, Kleenex tissues, hand sanitizer and a mother who knows exactly what she does and does not want!

I’m Not Alone

Former President Jimmy Carter, during an interview today with Brian Williams of NBC, stated the following:

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man. That he is African-American.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

They Protested

Jeff over at Wormtown Taxi writes today about the protest which took place in Washington, D.C. yesterday. I’m grateful to him for articulating something which has been percolating in me for some time. He highlights the sharp contrast between protesting for altruistic reasons in defense of others and protesting because of a perceived threat that your own ox is about to be gored.

It’s difficult to characterize these protesters, these tea party-ers, these birthers and tenthers, except as Jeff did when he wrote (a la the movie “Network”): “[They are] mad as hell, and not gonna take this anymore...". If only “this” could be precisely, decisively defined. In response to Jeff’s post I wrote the following:

The fruit salad of ill-informed, bumper sticker philosophy that has characterized these protesters has left me puzzled. When I see their outrage, I can't help but wonder where the heck was it for, say, the last eight years? Why now?

I've called them sheep and puppets for having been manipulated and stirred up by the health insurance companies and their deep pocketed lobbyists. But unless something had them upset in the first place, they shouldn't have been quite so susceptible to such extreme and patently obvious lies.

The presidential campaign last year got ugly. But it never reached the current level of extreme hatred until this summer. I think the opposition to health insurance reform (insurance companies, their lobbyists, Republicans, etc.) either knew what they were doing or were lucky when they tapped into a deep feeling of shock and fear among mostly white, mostly middle class and, based on August town hall meetings, mostly middle aged or older Americans. I honestly believe that having a well educated, articulate, charismatic black man as President of the United States has shaken them to their core.

I'm a liberal and a lower-case-i independent. President Barack Obama is a Democrat and appreciates the liberal wing of his party, but he is a remarkably conservative, centrist politician. To see him portrayed as Hitler, a Socialist and a radical intent on "pulling the plug on Grandma" would be laughable if these people weren't so damned serious and damn near unhinged by blind rage.

Political awareness is one's responsibility as a citizen. Heck, the first letter I wrote to a politician was to President Nixon when I was in elementary school! Vigorous debate, opposing viewpoints, competing philosophies and legislation are vital to a healthy Democracy. But so are facts. So is the truth. So is respect.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

It was a day unlike today, with sun, blue skies and white clouds. Stunningly beautiful, yet completely ordinary, as people went about their normal routines; getting kids ready for school and heading off to work. Then, the ordinariness was shattered. First, we thought it was a terrible accident. But before we had a chance to absorb it all, shock turned to horror, then a cascade of feelings as the day turned into night, followed by more days, upon days.

We remember...


More thoughts can be found here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Yes We Can!

”The time for bickering is over.  The time for games has passed.  Now is the season for action.  Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.  Now is the time to deliver on health care.”
- President Barack Obama, September 9, 2009

Tonight President Barack Obama, in his speech before a joint session of Congress, hit one out of the park! I was very pleased both with the content of the speech and his performance. He reviewed the history of this decades long struggle for healthcare and health insurance reform. He called out the lies and disinformation. He summoned the spirit of the late Senator Ted Kennedy; with Teddy’s widow and children in attendance. Most importantly, he outlined a solid roadmap to get the citizens of our country the stability and security they deserve.

Over at Organizing For America they have an good summary of the President’s plan - which includes a public option.

They also provide a very simple and speedy way for you to contact your Members of Congress to urge them to support President Obama’s plan.

psssst...Do Something!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Public Option

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has made a brief video explaining the necessity of a Public Option in the final Health Insurance Reform bill. He has also been writing cogent posts on a variety of subjects, including the healthcare debate over on his blog.

President Obama will be speaking before a joint session of Congress tomorrow evening at 8:00 p.m. Now is the time to contact your senators, your congressional representative and the the White House to let them know you want the Public Option.

Here’s how to do it:

Via the Internet: Click here to send an e-mail.

Via Telephone:
Comments: 202-456-1111

Switchboard: 202-456-1414

FAX: 202-456-2461

Comments: 202-456-6213

Via Postal Service:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Via Twitter: Use the address @BarackObama and @whitehouse (both of these are verified accounts)

Do you need to find the contact information for your senators? Follow this link to the U.S. Senate and use the “Find Your Senators” search box in the upper right corner of the page.

Looking for your congressperson’s contact information? Click on this link to the U.S. House and enter your zip code in the upper left hand corner of the page.

If you have questions about health insurance reform (or want to find out if a rumor is true or false) you can check the White House’s webpage called Reality Check.

Another source of clarification is the Organizing for America webpage called Setting the Record Straight.

And remains an excellent location to parse truth from misinformation on a wide variety of topics, including the current healthcare debate.

psssst...Do Something!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

One Year!

Happy first wedding anniversary
to Al and Carrie!
May happiness be
your constant companion!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Table For Four

One year ago yesterday, by the day of the week, we were in Newport, Rhode Island for the wedding rehearsal and dinner in honor of our niece Carrie and her then fiance Al. It was a lovely late summer evening, spent surrounded by family and friends over good food, with lots of laughter. Last night, we found ourselves in Newport once again, on a similarly balmy night. This time just a few wharves away from where the rehearsal dinner had been held. This time with friends from the other side of the globe; friends we had never met before. This time there was also good food and lots of laughter.

Morgan, of DancingMorganMouse, and her husband, the pseudonymous “Mr. Brown”, were traveling all the way from their home in Sydney, Australia to New York City. As part of the journey they scheduled a side trip to Newport where we made plans to meet for dinner. I am, at heart, a shy person. So imagine the butterflies I had in anticipation of meeting someone to whom I had felt virtually connected for just over two years, but with whom I had never spoken. The butterflies were completely unnecessary.

We met at The Mooring restaurant and were seated at a table on the deck looking out over the boats, as the sun was setting. A waiter named Rob, with the patience of a saint, took care of us all evening. Though as we were so busy talking it was quite difficult to get us to focus on the menu and make our selections. We began with the “Bag of Doughnuts” which are the sophisticated version of the classic Rhode Island clam cake. In this case it was a fritter made with lobster, crab and shrimp, with a chipotle maple aioli sauce on the side. They were scrumptious and the rest of the choices continued to clear the high bar set by the “doughnuts”.

So, yes, the food was fine, the Sauvignon Blanc chosen intuitively by Morgan for its name "Frog’s Leap”, was a great accompaniment, the view peaceful, but the best part was meeting two new people who felt like old friends. The conversation was wide ranging, never flagged and included topics one is advised against venturing into, such as politics and religion. But because Morgan and I have been reading about each others’ lives and sharing lots of that with Mr. Brown and Chuck, we already had well-established, solid, common ground.

I’ve written before about how finding intelligent, kind, well-intentioned, genuinely funny people all around the world via Pink Granite has been an extraordinary gift. Knowing such good folks are just a few keystrokes away has brought happiness and contentment into my life. Being able to meet Morgan and Mr. Brown face to face and share a long (How did 6:00 p.m. fly by to become midnight?), lovely evening together was even better than I could have imagined.

: : Update: Morgan has now posted her perceptions of their trip to Newport!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Urban Forest

The Worcester Tree Initiative is holding a “Fall 2009 Kickoff Event” on September 13th, from Noon to 4:00 p.m. at Forest Grove Middle School. Congressman Jim McGovern and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray will be in attendance. There will be tree planting demonstrations, which are required in order to receive a free tree.

Thanks to Destination Worcester for their Twitter Alert. Which was a Re-Tweet from “albtweets” - the Asian Longhorned Beetle Twitter page for the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Life In 41 Pictures

Alan Taylor of the Boston Globe has pulled together a truly stunning photo essay on the life and passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. You can view the nearly full screen images, strung all onto one page, at by clicking here.

Eighteen Years!

”Happy Anniversary to us,
Happy Anniversary to us,
Happy Anniversary dear Chuck & Lee
Happy Anniversary to us -
and many more!

Eighteen years ago, the weather was just as beautiful as it is today when our families gathered in our home for the wedding. Chuck and I had known each other for six years; been together for three. We were certain we wanted to be married. We were sure we were the happiest we could be. By the end of the year, we both realized that we were continuing to feel happier and more content as the weeks turned into months. It may sound silly, but that floored us. Luckily, amazingly it continues to be true. They say a second marriage is a triumph of optimism over experience. I’m so glad we felt that optimism, grabbed onto it and let it carry us down the aisle!