Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It should come as no surprise that I was a very mouthy child. This tendency was increased by the fact that I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents, the male member of which unit was the most foul-mouthed man I have ever encountered.

I mean, every other word out of the man's mouth was a swear. He was my grannie's second husband, but she had married him when my (biological) father, or BioF, was still a youth so he was just grandpa. Although now I think of him as "Mr. Deane."

Mr. D was a skeletal man who I remember mostly wearing a pith helmet or sitting in his chair in the corner of the front room and swearing at whatever came in over the radio. The radio receiver was suspended on the wall over his head.

(There was only one radio broadcast then, called "Radiodiffusion." When I was older my mother was an on-air personality.)

When I could only have been about 4 years old at most, I was playing with some other kids on the cannon outside the pink post office (it's still there, still pink) down the road from my grannie's house when BioF drove by in his little sports car.

btw, Any time I spent staying with my grandparents, I was supposed to be with him.

He waved at me - I swore at him. Very loudly. It must have been loud - he heard it over the car engine. I guess I felt wronged.

Except, I don't remember if I knew whatever word I said to him actually meant. From what I heard when I was a grownup, there was no telling what names Mr. Deane called my BioF in my presence.

I still remember BioF stopping his car, walking back to me, picking me up and holding me under his left arm, my butt sticking out the front. I was kicking and wailing as he walked back to his mother's house, spanking me along the way.

When he got to the house, he hollered at his mother something like, "Look what your foul-mouthed husband has done to my daughter!"

Funny, but not

OK, so this is something that I've never thought of. From the Associated Press story:

A Greek court has been asked to draw the line between the natives of the Aegean Sea island of Lesbos and the world's gay women.

(I think it's less the world's gay women and more one Greek organization of gay women that uses "Lesbian" in its name, as is stated in the second paragraph of the story.)

(Dimitris) Lambrou said the word lesbian has only been linked with gay women in the past few decades. "But we have been Lesbians for thousands of years," said Lambrou, who publishes a small magazine on ancient Greek religion and technology that frequently criticizes the Christian Church.

Lambrou complains that his sister can't say that she's a Lesbian because of "certain ladies" who have usurped the island's "geographical designation."

Lesbos is the birthplace of the lyric poet Sappho, many of whose works make reference to love for other women.

Lambrou says Sappho was not gay. "But even if we assume she was, how can 250,000 people of Lesbian descent — including women — be considered homosexual?"

I guess that's a fair point, but made rather late in the day.

Lambrou and two (female) plaintiffs on April 10 filed a lawsuit asking that the group (The Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece) be barred from using the word "Lesbian" in its name.

Toddlers wander on big, scary road

Toddlers found walking along Corunna Road reunited with mother
by X The Flint Journal
Wednesday April 30, 2008, 2:17 PM

FLINT, Michigan -- Two toddlers are back with their mother this morning after they were found walking alone on Corunna Road.

Police said a boy, 4, and girl, 2, were picked up about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday by a passer-by who spotted them walking down the street.

About an hour later, the children's frantic mother and babysitter called 911 after realizing the two children had left the babysitter's home, police said.

The mother told police she had dropped the children off at the babysitter's home about 5:30 a.m., but the sitter was still sleeping.

When she woke up, she noticed the children's items near an open front door and called the mother.

The mother picked up the children shortly after 8 a.m., police said.

It does not appear charges will be sought against anyone.
There are so many things wrong with this story - where do I begin? The writing?

No, let's begin with Corunna Road. For those of you not familiar with Flint, Michigan - which I'm assuming is 99-100% of you - this road is the equivalent of .... ummmm ... Route 1. If only because almost every road in Flint is the equivalent of Route 1. I'm sure there is a part of Corunna Road that is less heavily traveled than what I remember ... but ... nah.

No charges? What?? Child endangerment comes to my mind. Dumping your small kids off with a sleeping babysitter? She didn't have the time to wake the babysitter? I'm guessing the babysitter was often sleeping when the mother dropped off the kids.

This is how different Michigan is from Massachusetts. I don't think mom would have been reunited with her children so quickly if she lived here.

Another dog attack dilemma for Rowley

What the heck is going on in Rowley? According to the report in the Daily News, the dog on April 2 ran into a neighbor's yard and attacked a 12-year-old boy.

In a letter to the Rowley Board of Selectmen, Kevin McManus said his son Patrick and several boys were out enjoying one of the first nice spring afternoons of the season when the dog approached.

The dog, a German shepherd, jumped up and bit the boy in the stomach. The boy beat the dog off but it then attacked again and attached itself to his arm. The boy's brother kicked the dog until it released the 12-year-old.

According to the story, the dog's owner was with the dog when they left their own yard but it does not say what, if anything, the owner did to detach his dog from the child.

The McManuses say although the Gavins have been good neighbors through the years and have an invisible fence to keep their dog contained, they haven't taken Bear's aggression as seriously as they should have.

The dog frequently breaches the perimeter of the fence, the McManuses say, and upon doing so has exhibited vicious behavior toward the whole McManus family — especially to Patrick.

So far no commens from readers on the DN website. But I'm sure there will be.

This follows close on the heels of the Lab who was cleared of killing goats in a pen, in a neighbor's yard. That dog was initially ordered to be put down but Rowley selectmen reversed their decision and instead ordered that the dog be permanently restrained.

My sister posts about identity theft

A week ago today I came home to find a strange email from amazon, informing me that my password had been changed fourteen minutes before. I logged on to amazon and changed it back, then called their customer service. They told me that nobody could change my password without access to my email account. But then the representative mused, "Well, we are doing a software upgrade, and it's possible our system tossed that out by mistake." I took his word for it--after all, I could see all the emails in my box, how could anybody else have them? For twelve hours I did nothing.

The next morning, I received no emails. I logged on to my email account and changed my password, but another two hours went by and I still received no emails. I relogged and investigated further. My emails were being forwarded to a server that, when I followed the url, claimed to be "under construction." The name listed there led to me a myspace page about a former Boston art student now living in Bulgaria.

For twelve hours, someone else had received all my emails. I wondered what those would be --mostly political emails or alerts from Huffington Post or Salon, I figured. But as I scrolled through my box, I saw some other more sensitive emails, particularly one from PayPal. I logged on to PayPal, at the same time realizing that my logon and password for PayPal were exactly the same as my logon and password for my email. Sure enough, someone was attempting to charge $7,400 to a construction company in New York. PayPal had flagged it as suspicious, and when I called them, they immediately forwarded the whole thing to their fraud department. I canceled my Visa and changed my PayPal password.

Comcast has a great little IE toolbar that offers a spyware scan. I downloaded that, ran the program, and discovered a trojan on my machine. I do not know how it got there. I never open email attachments or run suspicious programs, and yet, there it was. I changed all my passwords a second time.

Amazon then emailed me. Someone had attempted to use my account, they announced, and so my account was frozen until I called.

I scrolled through my inbox. Now every email seemed threatening. Land's End, King Arthur Flour, even iTunes--any of those could have given the criminal a chance to charge things to my credit card in those twelve hours when I was off guard. In fact, he had changed my iTunes password on me, but since I had canceled my Visa he was unable to do anything with it. I felt as if I were always just behind him, like a mother behind a naughtly child, grabbing his hands just before he tried to steal a candy bar at the market.

By the end of the week, I felt I could finally relax, even though amazon dragged its feet getting my account back in order. Still, I knew it was impossible for him to do anything there. I continue to check the "last five purchases" on my Mastercard every day just in case.

Today, I got an email from eBay. I'd forgotten about eBay; I never use eBay. But the thief had been able to pretend he'd forgotten his logon and password, and, with access to my email, managed to get into my account. To their credit, eBay marked his activity as suspicious, and froze my account. (I asked how they knew he wasn't me, but they said that information was proprietary.)

Overall, I am very impressed with the security of the big online companies, especially PayPal and eBay. I feel that they were on my side, protecting me when I didn't even know my security had been violated. Even so, I know that he was able to access my birthday through at least one of these sites, and with my address, email address, and birthday, I wonder what other damage he could do.

My recommendations to others would be as follows: Have not one but several spyware programs installed on your machine. Run them every day. Change your passwords regularly, and keep a different password for every site (yes, that involves keeping a list in your desk drawer). At the slightest whiff of anything suspicious, cancel your credit card and have your bank issue a new one. Keep track of your accounts at various web sites--I find I can't even remember all the sites where I have a credit card number on file, or what my passwords are for those sites.

I was lucky to catch this guy after twelve hours, and I have been lucky so far in terms of stopping his fraud. However, I do not feel safe. I worry that there is something I missed, something yet to occur. Please do not let this happen to you.

- Helen Mazarakis (the one who lives in Malden)

I'm pooped

I've been out and about Newburyport all day. The photographer for Applaud magazine, for which I am writing the editorial in a 2-page spread about Newburyport for the next issue, came down from NH and we went to 12 different places to shoot.

I polled my writers group (as in the one I belong to, I did not organize it) and used the results to cull down the many possibilities of businesses to highlight here. I thank everyone in the group that responded and hope everyone approves of my choices! It was not an easy task given how many unique and wonderful shops we have here.

The publisher will be saturating the area with the (free) magazine, which is targeted towards women. I'll let you know when it's out there.

Still have a story to write for Sea Coast Scene as well.

Just one more

Hey, I decided not to go up to Seabrook before my assignment begins at 11!

I was looking myself up online and found my story for the Current on Newbury's plan to hire a Washington lobbyist reprinted in its entirety under the heading "Today's Pork Report" for Feb. 11 of this year.

It's the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee's website. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn is the ranking member of this subcommittee and I assume the compiler of the pork report. He is a Republican from Oklahoma (where the wind comes rushing down the plains, or something like that).

This is the bullet point near the top of the page: Massachusetts community may hire Washington lobbyist to obtain an earmark for beach sand around island’s high-priced homes

This is from the blurb about the subcommittee:

Reckless and unsustainable spending is inexcusable, especially at a time when our nation is at war, and when major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are headed toward bankruptcy.

Of course, our own Congressman John Tierney, a Democrat, blames war spending for the inability of the government to help out. And the guy on my last post doesn't think the government should be in the business of disaster relief at all, if people choose to build their homes in disaster-prone locations.

I haven't heard much about Howard Marlowe (the lobbyist) lately. Really have to leave now, though.

Got time for one more: living in a high-hazard area!

Here's some food for thought from an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute. The link will take you directly to the article.

The writer contends that the government has perpetuated the mentality that, if you build in a high-hazard area and the worst happens, the government will bail you out. He thinks it's time to alter that mentality with a free market in disaster prevention, insurance and recovery.

"No longer will government make disasters more disastrous by pretending that citizens have a right to defy the forces of nature at others' expense," he writes.

It's a hard line but worth a read.

I'm away from my couch

I'm out on assignment for most of the day today. A quick check of the online Daily News reaped me nothing to comment on before leaving the house. But upon reading Mary Baker Eaton's blog, I see she is posting about something upon which I can comment.

Hard economic times in Amesbury and Newburyport are pretty much the reason why we still have a lot of historic homes in these 2 communities.

But in good economic times, according to the National Architectural Trust, “…demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have effectively replaced one third of these (Newburyport) historic properties.” (From Mary's blog.)

We need more local historic districts, and ones with real teeth this time. The Fruit Street LHD was an excellent start but I have not heard anything further about the mayor's plan to create one for the downtown, or anywhere else.

Read this, which I wrote earlier this year for the Current.

I'm still on the fence about Stephen Karp/New England Development. It's a business and a business is going to do whatever it takes to make money. I did not necessarily "buy" his pitch to the public last month; but then, as I've said before, I've heard good things about the man.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Senior center a waste of money?

Looking forward to numerous further comments about this letter to the editor in the Daily News. This is the second time I have heard it proposed that the city does not need a senior citizen center at all. Anywhere.

Calling a mostly disenfranchised segment of the population a "special interest group," I think, is interesting.

Clams are up

This is a nice informative story in the Daily News, for clam lovers everywhere. It seems that even though a restaurant may label the clams they serve as "Ipswich clams," they may not, in fact, be from Ipswich at all. And there is a difference.

It turns out it's become standard practice for restaurants to label their clams of the "Ipswich" variety, but there's no sinister plot to deceive the shellfish-consuming public. Instead, it's a difference of opinion on the true definition of what qualifies as a true Ipswich clam.

Are they born and harvested in the mud and sand flats of Ipswich Harbor and the surrounding Plum Island Sound? Or are they synonymous with any clam "with the belly on," as some believe?

Or, as legend holds, was the Ipswich clam born the day Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman, founder of Woodman's restaurant in Essex, accidentally knocked a whole-bellied clam into his deep-fried potato cooker, immortalizing the art of deep frying the tender clams?

It depends on whom you ask. Local clammers will tell you it has everything to do with where they were taken from the earth.

Most area experts agree Cape Cod and Maine clams are a good alternate source in the event of local closures, even if the Cape's tend to be gritty due to the fact they're harvested from sand flats, and Maine's tend to be much darker in color due to their particularly acidic, muddy environment. But most agree that the clams that grow in mud flats tend to be the best.

"Maine would be my next choice definitely," said Marina "Chickie" Aggelakis, owner of the famous Clam Box on Route 1A in Ipswich. "They're the closest things to Ipswich as far as I'm concerned."

Aggelakis advertises her fried clams as "native," which means they come from area waters primarily, except in the event of a closure due to heavy rainfall or red tide.

She purchases her shellfish from Ipswich Shellfish Co., and since her restaurant (designed to look like an open box of fried clams) attracts long lines of customers throughout the year, she demands and receives a certain quality of clam.

I always wondered why the tastiness of fried clams varies so much from restaurant to restaurant, aside from cooking techniques. My favorite fried clams always were the ones served up at either Kelley's Roast Beef at Revere Beach or Turner Fisheries in Melrose.

A local fisherman once told me that J.T. Farnum's in Essex had the best fried clams anywhere around. My brother-in-law (the one who lives in Gloucester and the sole member of my immediate family who is native to these parts) likes the clams at Essex Seafood and, I believe, the Clam Box.

My family went for an Essex River Cruise a couple of summers ago and you would not believe the number of clammers there were out there. Sometimes we see them at the end of my street.

It's literally back-breaking work and I appreciate their efforts on behalf of satisfying our love of the fried Ipswich clam - with belly, of course.

More musings on blogging

Speaking of blogging, I suspect that many people I know and communicate with often check on here frequently to see if I've put some offhand comment they may have made in my presence on here.

In fact, one of my neighbors used to preface everything he said to me with, "This isn't for you to put in the paper ..." and then proceed to tell me some innocuous story that had no relevance to anyone but himself, or myself on occasion.

But sometimes he would, because he's lived here a long time and knows everything that's going on, give me a lead that he would make clear was a lead. A couple of them turned into stories.

I tried when I was on the Current, and I still do try, not to put stuff that people say that's not relevant to what I'm writing about (and then I don't identify the person, as is a rule, I would guess, of blogging), is too personal (to them), or may cast them in a bad light. Unless it's a public official or anyone else speaking publicly.

Having said that, I can't resist sharing a couple of things I heard over last weekend at events revolving around the Literary Festival. (And if someone can tell me why the 'o' key on my laptop has suddenly become sticky, I'd really appreciate it!)

"Are you you, or are you your brother?"
Said to Chris Sidford, twin brother of local architect Andy Sidford. I don't know if the person meant, "Are you you (Andy), or are you (his) brother?" or if he meant, "Are you you (the brother), or are you your brother (Andy)?"

"You know, it was the (book) where the pirate was always trying to get into her cove."
Said to me, who almost did a spit-take across the table, at the dinner to open the literary festival, by a writer of my acquaintance. Oh how we laughed. I'm sure my 2 cosmos and her chocatini at Mission Oak Grille previous to dinner helped fuel our hilarity. She was trying to remember the name of Daphne du Maurier's novel, Jamaica Inn, which is about a young woman, a pirate and I gather, a cove.

Put "hip-hop" in your tags

So I was inspired by Michelle Xiarhos Curran, in this post on her blog Singuloso, to sign up for sitemeter. Since I only did this at 11 p.m., and I have never posted about hip-hop, one could hardly expect such spectacular international results as she has seen.

If I'm reading the stats correctly, since last night 45 people have ventured to this space. A number of people apparently came directly to me via a link from Tom Salemi's blog. And left via a link on here to Ari Herzog's blog. So this getting your blog on the blog roll of other posters surely does work.

Now silly me, I thought that this sitemeter thing would tell me exactly who was reading my blog, as in So-and-So from Such-and-Such-Place. I really feared, seeing that Tom Salemi had sitemeter on his blog that he could tell how many times I day I check for new posts! I pictured him saying to himself, "What is she? Nuts?"

Well, I know, so now he gets to say it anyway.

Later I have a post coming up from my sister (the one who lives in Malden) about how her computer was hacked (into) and the hacker got access to her PayPal account. Hopefully I can get someone I know from an Internet security company to write about how to prevent such things from happening to you.

Da beach

I've been searching my storage CDs for about an hour, trying to find photos I took a couple of years ago of the Newbury Beach Committee installing fencing on the primary dune at Plum Island Center. That's where all the problems are right now with the erosion. No luck.

I did, however, find a story I wrote in 2006 about the committee, which serves in an advisory capacity to the Town of Newbury.

Photographs of the beach taken not that long ago show a flat surface running from the center parking lot down to the water. The dunes of old were completely eroded away. That water, with nothing to stem its flow, would flood the parking lot and Northern Boulevard at Plum Island center at regular intervals.

It was so bad that Bob Ducott, the owner of Dick’s Variety, says that sometimes they would put up a “no wake” sign out front.

Today the long process of restoring the main dune at the center is progressing, according to Paul Ivanska, president of the committee. Hundreds of clumps of dune grass and endless rolls of snow fence later, the dune has grown about four feet.

“We’re here to do the restoration,” Ivanska said at a meeting earlier this summer. He is accustomed to setbacks – the heavy rains and flooding in May erased some of the group’s earlier fence building and a part of the northern side of the dune collapsed. The landscape of the beach also changed – again.

A ledge just off shore pumps sand in on the southern side of the man-made breakwater, but draws it off the northern side during a storm. That is why, after the storm in May, the northern side of the beach dipped but the southern side gained more of a slope. The dune on the southern side of the entrance to the beach (which divides the dune) is growing at a faster pace.

“If not for the work of the committee, this erosion would be much worse,” says Doug Packer, head of Newbury’s Conservation Commission. The beach committee is an arm of the commission.

Over many long months, the town of Newbury has been involved in a small skirmish with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – if you think threats of a lawsuit constitute “small.” The “deal” they were trying to work out with DEP was exchanging parking for paving. The proposal, which may be accepted in an amended form, involved DEP allowing the paving of dirt streets on Plum Island in exchange for giving up some of the center parking lot to allow the dune to migrate back towards Northern Blvd. After reading about the concept – which was in no way finalized, Packer says – in the daily newspaper, a DEP official declared that no such deal was acceptable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

(stuff about the water/sewer project)

The Beach Committee, meanwhile, struggles to find funds to purchase more fencing. The fence forms a barrier to the sand, and the roots of the dune grass provide stability. The fence costs $50 per roll (or $1 per foot). The committee, comprised of volunteers, is committed to that primary dune.

At a later meeting of the committee that I attended, they were also struggling to find funds to purchase beach grass.

No resistance at all

Last night I had the strangest dream. This is how it went down, to the best of my recollection.

I was living in a big house (as opposed to the tiny one in which I actually reside) and it was in the middle of town instead of being on Plum Island. The strange part is that the offices, or at least the conference room, of the Daily News were in my house.

I think it was the kitchen because I was eating breakfast at a small table off to the side when all the reporters started filing in and taking their seats at this big conference table in the middle of the room. There was also some kind of reception area set up outside the kitchen.

After a while Will Courtney (city editor, I think) came in ... I have no idea what Will Courtney looks like, mind you, but in the way of dreams I knew it was he .... and I was immediately in conflict.

Should I stay or should I go? It was obviously a meeting with the reporters but it was also my house. After a couple of minutes, I decided to go, even though Will Courtney had smiled at me when he saw me sitting there. I believed, however, that at any moment he would ask me to leave. Even though it was my house.

I went to the living room and more reporters were streaming through the front door and walking straight through the living room, up a few steps and turning right into my kitchen, or whatever room it was.

After another little while they all went out again. I did not recognize any of them as DN reporters but I did recognize 2 of them from somewhere else that I couldn't quite put my finger on, in the dream.

You may see this as a manifestation of a secret longing to work at the DN, but in reality I believe it was all about my personal panorama and the way I deal with intrusions into said panorama. Nothing to do with the Daily News at all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The narrative line

I think last weekend's literary festival also has prompted much of the musing I've been doing yesterday and today.

As someone who did not write for years and years, who thought of herself as a vendor manager or an admin assistant who wrote on the side, or who rather had that narrative line running through her head but never wrote it down, it's rather a shock to my system to have a group of people who consider me to be a writer first and foremost.

I have always struggled with my identity. Unfortunately, I missed The Latino Boom program at this weekend's festival (so much going on at the same time) where I understand they discussed this very topic. At the post-festival party I did have the opportunity to speak with one of the participants, Sergio Troncoso.

He, too, had that struggle until he decided to give everything else up and devote himself to being a writer. Author Frank Schaeffer said much the same during the festival.

"I found what I should have been doing all along at age 39," he said.

I went from being a writer to not being one then back again over a span of years that I don't regret in the least. What else would I have to write about if I had not been the person who bought stuff for Kuwaiti royalty, if I had not met so many interesting people while working for a startup Internet company or not had such horrible experiences at the two publishing companies (haven't mentioned the book publisher I worked for, except in the "About Me" section, but it's how I ended up living in Newburyport so it's significant).

Well, there is my life: born in England, grew up to age 7 on Barbados, transplanted to rural Michigan at age 7, never interacted with extended family I was connected to by blood until I was in my 20s, etc.

And then there are all those quirky and wonderful people I know here, some of whom I complain about ad nauseum to others but still value as part of my panorama, if not outright love in a pleasingly platonic way.

For the record

Just want to say that I think the selection of artisan and fine jewelry we have on offer here in exceptional. When I'm shopping for my mom, for instance, I'm more than willing to spring for a really nice piece from one of our local establishments. Well, I was when I had a real job, anyway.

And while I like Newburyport the way it is, I see that things are going to change. I think it's a shame, as I did when I lived in Boston and things changed. But the city has to go the way of the general trend and the general trend here now is upscale.

So I was thinking last night before I fell asleep about newspapers and blogs (the temptation to write, "bloggity, bloggity, blog" is too strong - sorry, Ari), promted by something a character said in the HBO series "Oz." I was watching it before I went to bed, on HBO on Demand.

"Journalists are supposed to be impartial," he said. And I thought, I've never really thought of myself as a journalist (even when I was one); I think of myself as an observer and chronicler of my observations. In other words, a simple writer. We are by nature observers and reporters.

Or, as author Lou Ureneck put it so well Sat. morning, "We always want to lay a narrative line over our life."

We write what we see and feel and then a lot of times feel bad about what we just wrote.

So having a blog suits me just fine, except for the low-paying aspect. The feeling bad comes with the job.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Whoa, Nellie

I just read this on Ari Herzog's other blogspot,

Tsongas also mentioned, which was news to me, that every member of Congress receives an annual budget of $1.3 million to hire 18 staff members.

That would be Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who represents the Mass. 5th congressional district, in the Merrimack Valley.

There are 435 members of Congress, not counting the 100 senators who are technically members of the United States Congress but generically are not referenced as such.


Organic hot dogs??

My favorite comment on the DN website about the upscale vendor issue:

What's next Shirleys being ordered to offer organic hotdogs and chai lattes or be shut down? Because well that will of course appeal to a larger audience. (insert rolling eyes here!)

That cracked me up.

Shirley's Place, by the way, is the hot dog cart that sets up every summer on the pedestrian way, Inn Street, downtown. I think it's up and running already, actually. The line of people waiting for a dog on any given day, I think, is more a testament to Newburyport/thriftiness/eye for a good deal than the boutiques. Not that I object to the boutiques - I made 98% of my Christmas purchases in downtown last season.

Mostly at Hog on Ice, actually, which of course is no longer.

The birds: our biggest attraction?

Ari's comment on my last post but one has prompted me to point out something I've noticed every spring, summer, fall and winter here in Newburyport:

I see more people with out-of-state license plates stopped along the PI Turnpike, occupants with binoculars trained on the marsh, than I see trundling around downtown with bags and bundles full of items purchased at the boutiques. These people mostly eat at Bob Lobster and they shop at the gift shop at the Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center.

Only one of those places (Joppa Flats) is within Newburyport. There are no restaurants in Newburyport beyond The Tannery Mall. I don't believe that place out at the Point is a sitdown restaurant.

Now, I love Bob Lobster and congratulate the owners on the eatery's popularity, but why oh why does not Newburyport capitalize, or even especially welcome, the birdwatchers? I think it's the #1 hobby in the nation.

Audubon has a huge event, the Superbowl of Birding, every January. I don't see any extra effort taken by the city to make the place more welcoming to the hundreds of people who come from all over to take part in this event.

Just think of all the artists and artisans who produce works revolving around the bird(s). Photographers, people who work in clay, painters ...

Someone at the Current had the great idea for a publicity stunt of having an avid birwatcher who is not a football fan watch the football Superbowl with a bunch of fans and having a football fan who is not a bird person go birdwatching with an Audubon group. We could not pull it off in time but what a great way to publicize one of the most popular attractions to the area, no?

As it turned out, there was nothing in the Current at all this year about the Superbowl of Birding.

You would not believe how many people eating at Bob Lobster jump up from their meals and race to the windows at the cry of "hawk! hawk!"

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lit Festival

Wow, what a day!

It was my first Literary Festival and it was fantastic. I started off the morning by going to the breakfast with poets then went to City Hall to hear two great authors, Frank Schaeffer and Lou Ureneck, talk about their new books. I bought Schaeffer's book "Crazy for God" and plan to buy Ureneck's "Backcast." Both are about father-son relationships.

Following that I met up with fellow NLF volunteers and co-conspirators Melanie Wold and Jennifer Karin (and fellow writer's group member Jean Foley Doyle) for a heart-fluttering hour with Andre Dubus III at the Firehouse. The man has charisma oozing from every pore.

We moved on to a panel featuring two other members of the writer's group, Aine Greaney and Elisabeth Brink. Both have new books in the works. I haven't read Elisabeth's 2006 novel "Save Your Own" yet (since I just bought it) but I did manage to breeze through (and thoroughly enjoy) Aine's slim volume of short storis, "Sheep Breeder's Dance," before heading off to the closing ceremony.

Later we hooked up again to attend a panel on which another of our little group, Anne Easter Smith, discussed women writing about women with 3 other authors. Anne's new book is "Daughter of York."

The closing ceremony included our lovely lady poet and festival honoree, Rhina Espaillat, and an equally inspiring Alfred Nicol (I believe from Amesbury) reading their poetry to musical accompaniment (guitarist John Tavano). I was entranced while Nicol recited his poem about a bat, aptly titled "Bat."

At a post-festival party in Newbury, I talked a little with Ureneck and Nicol and three beautiful women writers, including Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Mirta Ojito.

A great day, all in all.

Festivals go froufrou

I always thought the whole idea of a "crafts fair" was to provide access to all levels of craft. It would appear that there is no longer room in Newburyport for those people whose wares don't make an unspecified grade.

According to this story in today's Daily News, our new spring festival will be an upscale event featuring only the finest in handmade ... er, stuff. No facsimile plovers on sticks stuck into a block of wood, thankyouverymuch.

It began last year with Yankee Homecoming, that festival that is for (all) families to come out and have a good time in our little city. The relative lack of interest in the crafts booths was attributed to the low quality of wares being hawked.

Forget that most people think everything at YH should be cheap, if not free. "It's gone too commercial," a neighbor (who has lived here her whole life) told me last year. She still goes, at least for the parade, she added.

But who imagines buying a $150 bracelet at a crafts booth? I imagine buying a $20 (or less) bracelet at a crafts fair.

"We focused on bringing in quality, beautiful items and works that you would find here ordinarily," (Kim Gobbi, owner of The Studio) said. "We want to make it a part of the downtown."

The higher-end craft shows may become the way of life for such festivals in Newburyport.

(Stuff about Yankee Homecoming).

At this year's Spring Fest, (Ann) Ormond said the chamber also, for the first time in a decade, increased the price to enter the show from $250 to $300. The show will have about 30 to 40 crafters.

"We wanted to try to make some changes to upgrade it a little more," Ormond said. "It has a new logo, a new look, a new feel."

Welcome to Karptucketport, folks. No crap that tourists love to pile on allowed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Welcome back, Mary

I echo Tom Salemi's welcome back to the original Newburyport blogger who is still posting, Mary Baker Eaton. I've missed Mary's daily posts in the last couple of months.

She writes about a senior center, the subject of a great debate in our city.

I, too, think she has put forth a great idea, as has Tom. Let's find a place right now, a space that already exists, to get our senior citizens and services provided to them in one building. I like the idea of a space near the river. I see a lot of elderly people and couples taking a stroll on the boardwalk, or sitting in their car facing the water.

I know how much the senior center in Gloucester means to my elderly mother. She regularly reports on the weekly Scrabble game. With my father not living in the house any longer, it is her only social outlet with people of her own age.

The senior center in Gloucester is centrally located, adjacent to a shopping plaza and restaurants, and within easy walking distance of Gloucester Harbor.

Of course, I have also visited the senior center in Salisbury, which is not centrally located (but almost so; Salisbury not having a "downtown" per se). It's not a large building but is well used.

It's time we got over all the bickering and get down to work on this. I don't really much care where it is, just get one in here soon. Not everyone is going to be pleased with the final location anyway.

Keeping up with Flint, Michigan

Recently I have been paying more attention to the online version of the newspaper from the city in which I once lived - Flint, Michigan. It is called the Flint Journal.

I always have to smile when people are offended when others call the Daily News "The Snooze" because some people in Flint called their paper "The Urinal."

It has struck me over the last week or so how many people are killed in traffic accidents in Flint, Michigan. I had forgotten that, having lived here for so long. (Plus, I always forget about the dead deer strapped to the tops of cars coming back from "Up North.")

Just this week, from my count, at least one death from a traffic-related accident occurred every day in the Flint area.

I knew a lot of people in Michigan who were killed in car crashes, especially when I was in high school. I'm hard pressed to think of more than one person I've known out here (in 24 years) who has even been involved in a serious car accident.

Well, there was my sister (the one who lives in Malden) and her family. Their car hit a deer in NY state while they were driving back to Michigan for a visit. No one was injured but the deer did not make it. I don't know if that counts since they weren't actually in this state and they were on their way to Michigan ...

I don't know what this all means. People in Mass. are known as bad drivers. I got the most comprehensive driver's ed known to man in Michigan. That state has better rules for merging onto highways (the person merging on has the right of way) and the roads were always kept in tip-top condition.

Must be something in the water.

Down but not out

I was reading the editorial in today's Daily News and the accompanying comment from a reader. John Macone, the editor, proposes that Hillary Clinton is down but far from being out and the reader has disputed that assertion.

I usually stay away from talking politics, except within my family. Therein lurk two of the most politically astute people known to man, my sister (the one who lives in Malden) and my brother (who lives in Gloucester).

The reason I shy away from speaking publicly is because *gasp* I am not a citizen of the United States and I cannot vote. So I'm going to bitch about immigration policy instead. ha, ha, gotcha.

My mother and I came to the US when I was 7 years old. I have lived here since I was 7 years old. I went through the US public school system from second grade to my graduation from the University of Michigan. Plus a year of graduate school, also at Michigan.

I stand when the National Anthem is played and I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America at all those municipal meetings. I mean it, too, or I would not do it. How could I not be considered an American?

Because of immigration policy, I did not become a naturalized citizen when my mother became one, even though I was still a minor when she did so. When I reached age 18 - the age at which I could apply for citizenship myself - there was a war going on to which I was very opposed. I was never really a radical in the extreme sense, but I have to admit that back then I resented that I had to apply for citizenship to a country where I had, by then, lived for 11 years as a minor child.

It was also because it was so expensive to do so, you see. Everything always comes down to money. I may be long on astute myself, but I am also long on stubborn; and frequently I am short on common sense relating to matters having to do with my own best interests. Not to mention resentful.

I also did not want to give up my British citizenship, which back then you had to do.

I have worked here since I was 18 years old and yet I still get frantic calls from my mother every once in a while telling me that Bush is going to cut off my benefits, that I contributed to, if I don't become a citizen.

I could move to any European country that is in the EC and work there, and receive free health and unemployment benefits there (the latter for which I am not eligible for here) but I choose to stay here. Where I grew up. The land I identify with the most, on most every important level.

So, with all that, it did not do me any good to work for that Kuwaiti-owned business I talked about a few posts back. Men, you see, would come from Kuwait to work there, bring their wives, and as soon as they produced a male child (who, by virtue of being born here was an instant citizen) they would go back to Kuwait.

I often wonder about why they did that, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. That handful of Kuwaiti nationals, all boys (they don't worry about the girls), now growing up in Kuwait - who also hold US citizenship.

Their parents sneered at this country (I received less of their disdain by virtue of my not being a citizen). In some cases, rightfully so. Some of the Americans working in the company sneered as well. That's another post.

But those little boys ... what about those little Kuwaiti/American boys? Is it an evil plot or simple common sense for them to be citizens of the most powerful country on the globe?
I agree with at least the spirit of Macone's editorial, by the way. I don't think Clinton should drop out of the race, no matter how long it drags on. It's a lesson in sociology from which we all can benefit. But I'm an Obama girl, if the word "girl" can be applied to someone of my advanced years.

That's also another post - the one in which I describe how, unlike Obama, I grew up being so white when I, too, have a parent who is not caucasian. Talk about a teaser!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Salad Fingers

Don't go here unless you are ... well, sort of nuts.

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

Our caper is in the paper

Well we (PR committee of Literary Festival) did get into the Daily News. Tomorrow will tell what happened with the Current. There will hopefully at least be a photo.

It didn't go over quite as we had planned, but it was good. Instead of creeping and stealth, the two photographers kept telling us to smile as we deposited books in such "hidden" locations as a bench at Market Square.

Bryan Eaton (DN photographer) wanted nothing to do with us making our "escape" via the Mini Cooper. Nicole Goodhue Boyd (Current photographer) loved the Mini idea but had us beaming through the open back end of the vehicle instead of fleeing the scene.

"We're supposed to look menacing," we kept insisting, to no avail.

So if you find one of the books of poetry we left strewn about in various downtown locations and at The Tannery, read it and pass it along. Of course, the first person I gave one of Rhina Espaillat's books to today (my mother) refused to surrender it after reading the poems in the slim volume. Then my sister (the one who lives in Malden, for a change) came in and she also wanted a copy, after reading a few of the poems.

It's good stuff. Enjoy.

Thanks, Ari

A hearty "thank you" to Ari Herzog for covering, and reporting on, the planning & development subcommittee meeting Tuesday night at which they discussed (but apparently came to no conclusions about) the location of a senior citizens center.

I guess the Daily News felt it was more important to send a reporter to the clam shack meeting. That, of course, was terminated after 3 hours because the device recording the hearing stopped working.

It's a good thing that we have so many reporter types roaming about who are able to fill in the holes. *cough, cough* Sorry, got something stuck in my craw.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sold out again? Landfill update

According to an email from Ron Klodenski, the Mass. Attorney General, the DEP and New Ventures yesterday had come to an agreement that will probably allow the landfill owner to resume normal operations -- that is, trucking more demolition debris into Newburyport for deposit on Crow Lane. When operations might resume is unclear.

As I understand it, this agreement also makes it unnecessary for the Attorney General and DEP to continue their suit against the landfill owner for violations of the DEP's preliminary injunction of October 2006.

Klodenski notes that the city will not be shown the agreement, according to Health Director Jack Morris, until it has been signed, and thus will have no say in the matter whatsoever.

So it seems that the state will not be taking over the capping of the landfill. Details of the agreement may be released as early as next week.

Everthing in blue came from Ron.

Need editing?

Ummm, yeah. Funny thing, I was going to comment on the inaccuracies/not-so-great sentence construction in this story about the school budget in today's Daily News. When I went back to the DN website to copy some more, the story was gone!

Oh, well, onwards and upwards (or downwards).

As of this school year, the Brown School has served as an early childhood center serving preschool and kindergarten while the Bresnahan School has the lower elementary grades. The Molin Upper Elementary School has moved to the Nock Middle School building.

The Molin Upper Elementary did not move anywhere. It was created to be within the Nock Middle School building.

Teachers at Nock are also stretched thin this year, as there are six teachers split among three teams, rather than the eight they had last year. Teachers are teaching out of their subject areas as well, like teaching geography.

Does this mean the teachers teaching out of their subject areas as well like teaching geography? Or that there are teachers teaching out of their subject areas, such as math teachers (for instance) teaching geography?

--Hell, I could teach geography. Give me some chalk.--

Anyway, is the editor on vacation or something? The other day they ran this (and it's still in there):

Roland and Brennan say those against the proposal are in the minority and most of his Joppa?? neighbors support Roland.

I don't know about the DN reporters, but that is how I would put something in a story when I wasn't sure it was accurate: in bold and with question marks.

And they really have got to find some other teacher besides Christine Johnson to interview. Don't get me wrong - I love Christine. She's a great person, a great artist and I'm sure a fantastic teacher. It's just always, in both papers, Christine Johnson.

Last time I saw her, at Amesbury Town Hall on election night last year, we even joked about how many times she'd been on the cover of one or other of the DN and the Current that year.

The next day, she was on the cover of the DN, or the Current, or the Amesbury News. I forget which one. Let's mix it up a little, folks.

Usually I would not, and do not, comment about random blips (yeah, right, you're thinking). The editor must be on vacation.

The mug, btw, is available at the Newseum, the interactive museum of news.

Give me science! Please

It's going to be a busy day for me so I'm posting now, at what I consider to be "the crack of dawn," but what most of my neighbors think of as "nearly mid-day."

Well, I'm not going to say much more about the PI beach. The Daily News, I think said it all in this story that appeared online on Sunday. I don't know if it was the Daily's intention to imply, "Hey, it has happened before, it will happen again, get over it," but there you go.

(Is there never going to be mention of the fact that in the 1800s, the mouth of the river was way back down by 55th St.? That being where people fear the breach will occur.)

The daily followed that up on Monday with an account of students from Lexington having been studying erosion on the Refuge beach for the past few years. I can't be certain because it is not made clear in the piece, if they only studied the dunes at the point where there was a man-made structure:

Regan estimates that the last time they were at boardwalk five, there was a 12-foot drop and he noted that the bottom of the stairs had been ripped away. He called the changes that had occured "dramatic."

Maybe I'm being too cynical (as unbelievable as that may seem) or downright wrong, but have we heard in this series of stories in the daily from an actual geologist or any scientific person of any description? We've heard from the chief of police in Newbury, a Newbury selectman, the Newbury conservation agent, a couple of politicians, several residents, the current and a former mayor of Newburyport, a bit from the Army Corps of Engineers guy (I assume an engineer) and now a high school teacher.

But no scientific backup. If I recall correctly.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Inflicting imagery, allegory, and symbolism on unsuspecting public

Tomorrow (Wednesday) 4 miscreants will be carrying out a top-secret literary mission around town. They will not be easily identified because they will be wearing sunglasses.

(Hey, I wanted wigs and black trench coats as well but none of us had a wig. Someone suggested pantyhose, but in the end, we figured our would-be rescuers from jail would be too busy laughing their proverbial asses off to bail us out.)

The narrative of our mission will be told in at least the Current. Not sure about the daily. I wrote to Stephen Tait but got no response. Our fearless leader, however, seems to believe some other DN reporter will be somewhere in the vicinity as we attempt to perform our ode-ious parody of lyrical naughtiness - and make our various escapes in a Mini Cooper.

The headline of this post, btw, was culled from a suggestion by one of the cohort, JKS. Thanks to her for being, as always, so clever.

We'll be creeping down alleyways and peering 'round corners at just about noontime.

No free meter for you

I heard a little while ago that, whereas PI residents in Newburyport section had to pay $520 each for new water meters as part of the water/sewer project, all the other city residents got their new meters for free.

Apparently the city got a grant for the free meters, but had already established that PI-ers had to pay for theirs by the time the city got the grant $$.

So it was another case of "too bad" out here on the island.

As I sip my S.Pellegrino ...

I read this, from the Chicago Sun Times. To recap:

Americans spent nearly $11 billion last year on bottled water, making it the nation's second-favorite beverage, after soft drinks. (me:YIKES!)

That's a lot of water -- and a lot of waste, environmental advocates say.

It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil -- enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year -- to make the plastic bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water, according to the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., environmental think tank.

The NRDC tested more than 100 types of bottled water and found "spotty" quality, with a third of the brands containing contaminants such as arsenic in at least some samples, said Adrianna Quintero, an attorney for the group. (me: Arsenic??)

"The problem with bottled water is we really have no way of knowing what we're getting," Quintero said.

There's an alternative, experts say, and it's cheaper: Buy a reusable bottle, and fill it with tap water, which is stringently regulated.
(me:But what if the tap water tastes bad?)

But if you still want to buy bottled water (me:OK, I do), they suggest picking a domestic brand over one that was shipped halfway across the globe, giving the environment a break by using less fuel to ship it -- and then recycle the bottle. (me: Looking with suspicion at the bottle of S.Pellegrino)

I was just discussing this with my neighbor (the buying water stuff; we both recycle like maniacs). Is it hype or does municipal water really taste bad? I'm so used to buying bottled water that it's more by rote than by choice that I pick up 2 gallons of it for $1 at Market Basket.

Monday, April 21, 2008

No more octopus swinging! Dammit

Anyone who is from Michigan, or is a hockey fan for that matter, knows to what this headline refers:

NHL bans octopus swinging; $10,000 fine for offenders

For those of you that do not know, fans throwing octopi onto the ice is a regular feature of a Detroit Red Wings hockey game. But this I did not know: Apparently the guy who plucks them off the ice was in the habit of swinging them around his head.

Details were scarce Friday, but the Wings have been told by the NHL that head octopus wrangler Al Sobotka no longer may swing the mollusks over his head while removing them from the ice at Joe Louis Arena. If he (or anyone else) does, the team will be fined $10,000.

This is from a story in the Freep, or as it is also known, the Detroit Free Press.

And according to the NHL, too much "matter" flies onto the ice when the octopus is swung. I gather from this that no matter gets onto the ice when the mollusk lands on the rink after being flung from the stands, or when someone whacks it with their stick:

Ducks general manager Brian Burke complained about Sobotka's swinging last year. Before Friday's game, an octopus landed on the ice, as usual, and Nashville defenseman Greg Zanon whacked it aside with his stick.

I don't think anyone swung them when I used to watch the games with our friend Al, an avid Wings fan. btw, I watched the Wings games because I liked Ron Duguay. Oh, how his hair would flow while he glided over the ice (before mandatory helmets, I guess). How nice his bare shoulders and chest looked in the post-game interviews ... what a show-off!

More about this tradition from

The first octopus landed on the ice during the Red Wings' 1952 Stanley Cup run, courtesy of brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano, who owned a fish market. If you know your cephalopods, you will know that an octopus has eight tentacles. In those days it took eight playoff wins to claim the Cup, hence the supposed symbolism of the gesture.

The Red Wings were perfect in the '52 playoffs, sweeping the semifinal and the final in straight games. The octopus has been a good luck charm ever since.

By 1995, the team had adopted the tradition by introducing a mascot, Al the Octopus. Al is raised to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena before every home playoff game, and used in team merchandising and promotion.

Our friend Al is neither the offending mollusk swinger nor the mascot (as far as I know, that is), but he sure knew how to swing.

But, that aside, it sure does seem that whining gets you a long way these days.

Dave Barry on newspaper industry

I love Dave Barry but I haven't thought of him in years. Here's part of a column called "Get me rewrite!" he wrote for the Miami Herald in 2001 but was re-run in yesterday's Herald. I particularly love his suggestion for a paper's cost-cutting motto: "All the News That."

yada, yada, yada ...

The newspaper industry spread to America, where, by the 20th century, virtually every town had a locally owned newspaper with a name like The Chronic Prevaricator or The Register-Sphincter, which kept the community abreast of local politics (''City Council Attacked by Pig'') as well as national issues (''Strom Thurmond Still Alive''). These were family operations run by people who were less concerned about making large profits than about keeping their body parts out of the presses.

But in the past few decades, all of these newspapers were purchased by large corporations, which were in turn purchased by larger corporations, and so on, so that today the entire American newspaper industry has been glommed together into one giant media conglomerate owned by Wall Street, which frankly does not care what your city council did. What Wall Street cares about is profits. Here at the newspaper, we get hourly phone calls from Wall Street.

''Send more profits!'' Wall Street shouts, then slams down the receiver.

We must comply, because otherwise Wall Street would shut down the newspaper and we would starve to death, because, as English majors, we have no useful skills.

I believe we do have useful skills - we just don't want to employ them. We'll even deny we have them, if necessary. "I know nothing about QuickBooks," for example.

Walk, or use a Pedicab, when you can

This report on CNN is something to think about. The story is about kids with asthma and pollution.

Children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution because their lungs don't fully form until they are adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted ...

Outdoor irritants range from pollen to cold air (?) to air pollution. (My question mark.)

Michael Chang, an atmospheric research scientist at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, estimated that 50 percent of air pollutants are created by cars and trucks.

He explained many parts of the U.S. are now transitioning to higher temperatures and more humid summers.

"We don't have the winds that blow things out of the air," Chang said. "The stuff we put into the atmosphere lingers longer."

He compared the air quality in many big cities to a chemical soup of thousands of compounds, including ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. The Environmental Protection Agency describes ground-level ozone as the primary component of smog. It includes motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents.

We, of course, do not live in a big city, but we've got that wonderful landfill and its hydrogen sulfide emissions that go who knows where.

When I belonged to Tufts Healthcare a few years ago, I received a newsletter that basically said if you jog during rush hour, you inhale toxins equal to smoking a whole pack of cigarettes - or more, depending on the traffic.

"Jogging late in the afternoon during the summer is not the best time," Chang said. "Ground-level ozone is at its worst at that time of day."

(Georgia pediatrician Avril) Beckford goes one step further, warning parents to not choose a house, school or playground that is close to a busy road or a highway.

Another fight over an "iconic" building

Things are getting hot in the issue of the one remaining clam shack in town and one man's right to make it into a home. As in, does he have the right?

The Daily News is right on it and this issue continues the battle between the Mayor and Ward 1 City Councillor Larry McCavitt, which was escalated a month or so ago when the Mayor called McCavitt "a bully" because he was trying to get folks to adhere to state laws regarding Commonwealth waterways (that's my take on it anyway).

The Mayor kind of backtracked to me and said he felt McCavitt was trying to force his views down everyone's throat (which he also says in today's DN story). But I notice that the tag "bully" is still being bandied about.

McCavitt, by the way, was involved in writing or at least re-writing Chapter 91 law regarding public waterways. So he's not an expert or anything.

I don't know who this Roland guy is or why the Mayor is taking such an intense interest in the matter. He got the city's legal advisor, Kopelman and Paige, to render an opinion (dated Sept. 18, 2007), which says:

"Without a court decree, Roland's claim of title by adverse possession is not record title and does not constitute proof of ownership ... Since Roland cannot even prove that he has any right of record to even enter onto the Property, let alone establish good title to the Property, it is difficult to see what hardship, if any, Roland would suffer were he not allowed to convert the summer cottage into a year-round single family residence ... it is my opinion that the ZBA may properly find that Roland is not entitled to a variance."

What the heck? We got REAL problems in this city and we're wasting time and money on this after a legal opinion has already been obtained? Unless Roland came up with some real proof that he owns the property, which it does not seem that he did, why not tell him to come back when he does have the proof?

And what's with all these meetings the Mayor has with special interests?

McCavitt says the new hearings are the result of a "secret" meeting in which Mayor John Moak and a city solicitor met with Roland and his attorney. He said the meeting was designed to find a way to get the matter back before the board.

First Moak raised a ruckus by proposing a private meeting between the City Council and Stephen Karp, now a major property owner in the downtown.

But I think even before that, he was meeting with marina owners to discuss matters relating to proposed new mooring regulations. Private marinas, if I recall correctly, rent the majority of the city's moorings in the river.

Moak said a taxpayer came to him who didn't believe he received a fair shake at the hearing because of filing errors. The mayor said since he is not an attorney and stays neutral in such cases, he called in the city solicitor to help make a determination, which was to have new hearings.

Can a person who can't even prove he owns a property really tie up city government like this? Seems he can - the hearings start at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in council chambers.

Earth Day farmer's market

I toddled on over to the farmer's market, held at Bartlet Mall yesterday. I was there really early, like when it had just opened, but there were a lot of folks already there and many more heading in as I was heading out.

I had to chuckle when Pettengill Farms' huge central display, a large shallow pot full of plants, was purchased and hauled off within minutes of the open of the market, leaving a big gap on the table.

I got some plants for my window boxes at a good price (I'd been shopping around during the week) and came home happy to have filled the boxes for just $5.

On my way back to the car, which I had parked in the Green St. lot, I ran into Jeremy who owns Grand Trunk (the wonderful cheese shop and my favorite place) with his wife. He had also just returned from the market.

We agreed that it would be wonderful to have a regular farmer's market on the Mall. Clearly it would be a popular event for a Sat. and/or Sun. I believe last summer someone proposed such a thing but it was shot down.

And Newburyport Pedicab made a pre-season showing to run people laden with purchases back to their cars or homes. I hope it was as successful as it looked to be.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Return of the mummy, with a new nose

If you plan to get plastic surgery and don't want to upset your kids too much, here's a new children's book to help the kids adjust to mommy going to the hospital and coming home all bandaged up.

Or, you know, warp their impressionable little minds forever.

(Italicized text from the Newsweek story.)

Written and self-published by a Florida plastic surgeon, this book tells the story of a mommy who gets a tummy tuck, a nose job and breast implants. Before her surgery the mom explains that she is getting a smaller tummy: "You see, as I got older, my body stretched and I couldn't fit into my clothes anymore. Dr. Michael is going to help fix that and make me feel better." Mom comes home looking like a slightly bruised Barbie doll with demure bandages on her nose and around her waist.

(Dr. Michael) Salzhauer got the idea for a book after noticing that women were coming into his office with their kids in tow. He says that mysterious doctor's visits can be frightening for children. "Parents generally tend to go into this denial thing. They just try to ignore the kids' questions completely." But, he adds, children "fill in the blanks in their imagination" and then feel worse when they see "mommy with bandages," he says. "With the tummy tucks, [the mothers] can't lift anything. They're in bed. The kids have questions."

The text doesn't mention the breast augmentation, but the illustrations intentionally show Mom's breasts to be fuller and higher ... The book doesn't explain exactly why the mother is redoing her nose post-pregnancy. Nonetheless, Mom reassures her little girl that the new nose won't just look "different, my dear—prettier!"

Seems like there must be a better way to tell your child what's going on without making it about self esteem. I can't think of one right now.

Congratulations Stephen

It seems that our own Stephen Tait of the Daily News was runner-up for reporter of the year at CNHI newspaper company. CNHI owns 100 papers nationally so to be even a finalist was a great achievement.

Although it may seem I take every opportunity to bitch and moan about the DN, I have a great deal of respect for Stephen as a fellow journalist and a fellow Michigander.

Congratulations, Stephen! I bow in the general direction of Fruit St.

Steeped in pop culture

I saw this headline on and immediately thought that Bruce Springsteen was a true-blue Katie Couric fan:

Boss backs Couric

Springsteen has, however, endorsed Barack Obama. So I guess it wasn't a terribly off-the-mark assumption on my part. It's Couric's boss who is backing her, in this case.

Couric may get a boost in her ratings, however, now that so many people are peeved at ABC over the Democratic debate the other night.


I have always been fascinated by people and finding out their motivations for doing what they do. I do believe that's why I am so taken with the character of Bartleby in the movie "Dogma" - also a watcher.

I like to look at a couple and guess what the attraction is/was. Sometimes it's really obvious; most of the times it's a mystery. When I get to know the people better, I sometimes ask. The result of one of my queries is detailed below.

First there's the blonde thing. I don't know if that began with movie stars like Jean Harlow in the 1930s or if it began in the 1960s when music was enjoining everyone to be a California blond(e).

I believe the thin thing began when runway models became supermodels. Twiggy probably did more for diet products than any other marketing possible. We had a discussion on Ari Herzog's blog about young impressionable people and smoking. I think a lot of people are much more impressionable than most people imagine.

Then there's the women with wide mouths thing. Think about it for a minute. This was actually confirmed by my (now ex-)boyfriend, who was very candid about his reasons for being attracted to a woman. He, by the way, really liked Gina Davis - a thin, dark-haired woman with a wide mouth.

Men who are vertically challenged usually go for a woman who is shorter than he. The man in a couple I once knew said (when asked) that he had looked for a woman with long hair who really liked the Red Sox (the shorter than him I just inferred).

I replied that he was lucky, then, that he found (name of his wife). Everyone was shocked that I had said that; but what I meant was that he was lucky to have found a woman with long hair who liked the Red Sox who was also smart and funny, to name just two of her attributes that I felt merited more comment than the long hair and the Red Sox love.

A woman I once knew said what she loved most about the man she was about to marry was that he loved her so much. Needless to say, they are now divorced. When she finally grew up, she found someone who she loved for themself, not herself. I feel deeply for the ex-husband, although he should have seen that one coming.

A couple more women have told me that they like men who really love them, or who think they are great, etc. Conversely, my ex-boyfriend once told me early on in our relationship that he had me on a pedestal. I think the fact that I fell off the pedestal is one reason why I'm still here and he is not.

Is love really blind? Maybe.

A long time ago, when I was young and still living in Michigan, a woman I knew only slightly was telling me about the man whose proposal of marriage she had just accepted.

"He wasn't my type at all," she said about when she first met him. "But I thought 'what the heck?' I'd give him a chance anyway."

When I was young, and even now, I think of the physical "type" that attracts me as being dark haired and dark eyed. I also am attracted to high cheekbones, which makes Johnny Depp my perceived ideal. And I'm big on voices.

To the horror of my sister (the one who lives in Gloucester), I always loved the voice of Steve Perry, former lead singer of Journey.

Recently I confessed that not only did I like his voice, I also found him physically attractive. "It was bad enough you like his voice!" she exclaimed. "Now you're telling me you think he's attractive??"


Both of my long-terms relationships, however, have been with men who had red or light brown hair and blue eyes. So there you go.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Don't let me down, honey

And just when I thought that my vista was golden in hue,
One thousand umbrellas opened to spoil my view

That's how the men who are the subjects of their ex-wives' blogs must feel. Check it out in this piece in today's NY Times.

Women (and men, actually) are airing all the dirty laundry of their failed marriages online.

Until the morning her husband, David Sals, told her he “was done” with their marriage, Jennifer Neal had portrayed him so lovingly on her blog that he was called DearSweetDave. By the afternoon of that October day last year, Ms. Neal had shared what she portrayed as his perfidy with the 55,000 regular readers she says visit NakedJencom.

Gee, I can't think why people would be attracted to a site called NakedJencom.

Anyway ... well ... rather than waiting for the release of the Lifetime movie next year, maybe I should air my dirty laundry about my failed relationship with the Current right here. And all my other failed relationships, such as they are.

“The bloggers who are doing the best are those who are injecting their personal lives,” said Penelope Trunk, the author of the Brazen Careerist blog, who has written frequently in the past year about the collapse of her 15-year marriage.

But there may be a downside:

There will certainly be consequences down the line of all this sharing. “The long-term impact of the persistent information on line has not been fully felt,” Ms. Madden said.

Persistent information? Is that a bad thing?

For the moment, the courts appear to be on the side of the bloggers. First Amendment and all that stuff.

To collect or not to collect?

Why is there even any debate? If the people used the water, they owe the city the dough, or at least some portion of it.

Councillor Brian Derrivan had this to say to the Daily News:

"It seems to me if it was a problem with the city's equipment, then it is the city's responsibility," he said. "You can't trust the equipment, you can't trust the person taking the readings, if they were even taking the readings."

Hey, that's great news for the people on Plum Island, who had to pay higher betterments than anticipated due to admitted mismanagement of the water/sewer project. All homeowners got out here was an embarassed version of "too bad."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How I ended up buying stuff for rich Kuwaitis

Well ... I was temping, in Boston. I was sent on assignment to a place that was/is (not sure if it's still there) an investment company owned by a company in Kuwait.

I started out filling in for the assistant (read secretary) for the president of this Boston office while she was out having surgery. I did not make a good secretary, but this guy liked me. We got along really well, mostly because some of the first words he said to me were these: "Do you think you will stay here until (name of secretary on leave) comes back?" and my response was, "Yes, if I don't lose my mind first."

Since I did not make a good secretary but he liked me, I got this other position, which started out as part of his secretary's job but had escalated. I got to buy expensive stuff for whoever in the main office wanted something from here that they could not get there. Then I shipped it off to Kuwait, or wherever.

This stuff included, but was not limited to: gold Rolex watches, jet skis, snow mobiles (I know, there is no snow in Kuwait; those were for use somewhere else), sports cars, SUVs, a VW bug when it was first re-released, several luxury motor homes, 5 (used) Humvees, a (used) 90-ft. houseboat, and 2 (used) helicopters, one big and one small. When I left, we (I only assisted on this one since it involved a HUGE outlay of money and lawyers) had just bought and were refurbishing a (used) 727 jet.

Really, really wealthy people are kinda cheap - although I'm sure they all have at least one $7500 Birkin bag each.

Mostly, though, my days consisted of buying endless parts for the helicopters.

I won't even go into rotors that got damaged while the smaller bird was being loaded onto a plane in Germany (bad Lufthansa), the troubles I had with arranging for a houseboat to get down the Nile from the port to its destination, or how difficult it was to find the disco ball for the chairman's private, in-home club.

Oh! And I forgot about the special (sand) erosion prevention system. And you thought I didn't know what I was talking about vis-a-vis erosion control. Actually, I had forgot all about that until just now ...

When it got to the point where I was buying ... ummm ... stuff I wasn't that comfortable buying, I exited, stage left.

It's a purse, for Bleep's sake!

I loved reading this story, in the Boston Globe. And when I say "loved," I mean, "made me slightly nauseous."

Hermes, that emporium of high-priced-whatever-someone-is-willing-to-spend-way-too-much-on, it seems has been falsely inflating the price of a bag called a Birkin. At least according to the dude in the story.

To the "ordinary" Hermes shopper, apparently, obtaining a Birkin requires one to wait for 2 years. But according to the dude profiled in this piece, if you go into a Hermes and drop $1 million year (as he did), you can get one or, in his case, several of these rare ... purses.

This is, until Hermes found out that he was re-selling them on e-Bay. I actually liked that part; I wish I were that enterprising. But then, I don't have, and never will have, $1 million to drop at any store. Unless I win the lottery, of course. But then, I once went into the Hermes in Boston and got light-headed from the aroma of fresh money.

(I was there on a mission for my boss; how I ended up in a job that involved buying over-priced stuff for Kuwaiti royalty is another story.)

This particular bag, by the way, starts at $7500 and is mostly feverishly sought by young celebritiy types.

There was one heart-rending account in the piece, though. It seems a Boston woman whose mother lost all her possessions during Hurricane Katrina willingly handed her Birkin bag over to Mom to make her feel better. Awwww

HOLY MOLY - Hillary Clinton on the Colbert Report! She's not toting a Birkin, though ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

After a flurry of huffy comments over on Ari Herzog's blog all has quieted. Everyone must be watching the Red Sox game, which has gone all boring and which is why I'm here doing this with the game on in the background. Just think of all the energy I'm wasting with both the computer and the TV on.

Well, ya know? I've been a fan of baseball ever since I was a sprout. Don't know why; no one else in my family was (then) a fan. I would sit by myself, watching my beloved Detroit Tigers and my cheers echoed off the walls of an otherwise empty room.

Sometimes my mother, who is of English origin, would try to watch but she kept getting confused with her cricket background and would cheer when someone caught a fly ball - I mean, when MY team would be out. She never could get that straight.

Anyway, this big tiger head would come on the screen when a Tiger hit a home run and there would be all this roaring and it was fun. They don't do that anymore.

I remember the first time I went to a game in Tiger Stadium. I was in college, in Ann Arbor, and my friends who were from Detroit invited me to a game. I don't remember exact details (we were probably ... errrr ... in an altered state of consciousness?) but it was good. I do remember people yelling "Hit da ball, Willie!" at slugger Willie Horton.

More recently ... as in 24 years ago ... I was at Tiger Stadium for game 5 of the World Series. Coincidentally, the Tigers won the World Series that night. This I remember vividly. The Roar of '84.

I wasn't alone in '84, though. My sister (the one who lives in Gloucester), her friend and I were there together and were united in outrage, I recall, when the next day the front page of the Detroit News had a full-page photo of Kirk Gibson, heralding him as the hero of the night before.

It was Lance Parrish, the catcher, who actually hit the game-winning homerun.

I still have a Tigers gizmo on my keychain, after all these years of living here in Mass. My Tigers cap was lost when our family's sailboat broke free of its mooring in Gloucester Harbor and was smashed into oblivion on the rocks.

The Tigers in '84 had 2 on-air guys: outfielder Al Kaline of the great '68 team and former third baseman George Kell.

Chet Lemon was up to bat. Now, normally, George did most of the talking. Here's why.

"One strike and no balls on Chet Lemon," Al announced. Honest, he said it. Ask my sister (the one who lives in Gloucester).

A spiritual morning in Newbury

I had an epiphany of sorts this morning. I was at the First Parish Church in Newbury talking with the church pastor, Nancy Haverington and church deacon Erin Stack. The church is again very involved with the city's celebrations leading up to Earth Day.

I put my notebook away and as often happens, we started talking about stuff. In this case, it was that story I posted a ways back about people leaving the church of their upbringing and seeking another message, or faith, or whatever.

As we went along talking, my eyes teared up and walking back to my car I found that I was close to weeping. It could have been a hormonal flux but there was definitely something else there.

As I said back in the previous post, I'm not particularly religious. But I think that there is something in that building for me.

Perhaps it's those 2 endearing women. Both are intelligent and forthright and warm - hugging me upon both my arrival and departure (I knew both previous to this morning). Bingo! - A caring community!

And I think that this is why people belong to a church, aside from the obvious reason. Maybe Obama had it right but just said it wrong. A hug, a good intelligent conversation and a lot of warmth from a church community (or any community) can go a long way to help alleviate day-to-day stress. And why not cling to that?

Not sure about the clinging to guns part, however - but whatever floats your boat, I guess.

I don't think I wanted to cry because I had suddenly found God. What I had found were truly spiritual people who believe in something I don't necessarily believe in - but who still embraced me, welcomed me and offered me their friendship down the road.

We've got a lot of good people here, doing good things here. We should cherish that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The beat goes on and on and on

I could be at a loss to explain why it seemed nobody gave a shit about Plum Island until now. They took away the fire service, they took away the bus service, nobody stood up and said, "Hey, no fair!" when the state first made residents install costly new septic systems and then a few years later said those weren't good enough - no, everyone had to have municipal water and sewer.

Well now the beach is at stake. Last year, when all the water/sewer mess was coming to a close and homeowners had been assessed their $17,400 betterments, one of my neighbors said to me, "Nobody cares about Plum Island unless it's about the beach," or words to that effect. The proof is in the pudding.

More recently, someone in city government said to me, "Hey, nobody cares about Plum Island." He meant the general public, I believe, not himself.

This morning I read even more opinions and conclusions about beach erosion, sparked by a comment in the comments on a story in the Daily News. There are more differing opinions on the Internet than in the comments sections of the stories in the Daily News.

But what seemed clear was what I wrote before - dredged channels, jetties and 'groins' are a primary causes of beach erosion. And building houses on/in the dunes doesn't help preserve dunes.

What surprised me - not sure why - is that nearly everyone agrees that the Army Corps of Engineers had a big hand in what is happening on beaches.

Unfortunately, engineering principles similar to the Corps' old river control policies are still alive and well on the coastline. Coastal engineers (and regulators) consequently strive to increase rates of longshore flow along the coast (since longshore flow is the only source of sand for other beaches, according to engineering theory, it presumably follows that maintaining high rates of longshore flow is beneficial). This policy, however, causes nearshore energy to increase, which translates into higher rates of coastal erosion and general environmental degradation.

Warren Brooks, the journalist who broke the acid rain story, writes that "one of the anomalies of the environmental age is that the Corps of Engineers has become the alleged protector of wetlands when it has traditionally been one of their biggest enemies, especially tidal wetlands threatened by beach erosion...the main reason we are losing beach shoreline at such an alarming rate is not sea level rise, but the destruction of natural beach protection systems by the Corps and its multi-billion-dollar dredge lobby."

Stuart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, writes that the Army Corps "resembles a brachiosuarus, a giant water-loving dinosaur with less brains per pound of flesh than any other vertebrate. The Corps has survived form the Jurassic Age of Engineering when dams and dredged-out channels were deemed man's greatest gifts to nature." (Source:

You can see for yourself, if you can get to the Newbury town beach with that massive pile of sand there at the center parking lot. The beach to the south of the center groin is okay, for now, while the beach immediately to the north is the one in peril.

The Basin, the water between the ocean side of the island the river side (which is where I live) is so choked with sand that soon we'll be able to walk over there. A boon to property values over here, I would imagine. A 10-minute walk instead of a 10+-minute drive to the town beach or Newburyport beach; finding a place to park, paying to park ...

And so the debate continues.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My return to council chambers

Well, tonight I went to a City Council meeting for the first time since I resigned from The Current. I was there in support of the city's Earth Day celebration, although I did not get up and speak.

It would appear that this session of the council is truly interested in communication. Whereas previously the chairperson of the Joint Education sub-committee (a joint committee of the City Council and the School Committee) did not report back to the full Council, this year's chairman, Greg Earls, gave a full report on what was going on over there is the school dept.

Donna Holaday, in her report of Budget & Finance, also mentioned the school dept. and its capital improvement plan.

I started out as a freelancer for the Current, covering the School Committee. And I can tell you, the City Council never had much of a clue what was going on over on the school side of government. Not so much their fault as a definite lack of communication.

Also, the council approved an order for the mayor to proceed with negotiations for a lease on land at the old I-95 access road for a "wireless communication facility." I think that's fancy talk for a cell tower.

And next Tuesday, Earth Day, at 6:30 p.m. there will be a public hearing on the use of part of Cushing Park for a senior citizen's center. On Wednesday next at 5:30 p.m., there will be a hearing held by the water dept. about those high bills people received once someone actually read their water meters.

Finally, I thought it was really classy for council President James Shanley to step down from his elevated seat and take the floor to publicly recognize all the citizens who voluntarily serve on the city's numerous boards and commissions. These people give up a lot of time in service to the city and as Shanley noted, sometimes it ain't an easy job.

The Conservation Commission, I think in particular, has a really rough role. I tip my hat to all the board members and commission members and hope people will apply to be on ConCom and the Commission for Diversity and Tolerance.

The news and the blogs

Tom Ryan, former Newburyport resident and love him or hate him 'personality' who moved last fall to NH in the latest post on his blog waxes nostalgic about Newburyport and The Undertoad.

As we in the city know, The Undertoad was his 'alternative' publication. And as he says in the post, he was either reviled or hailed for what he wrote. By the time I arrived here the reporting had already been toned down considerably (if you consider a headline reading "John Moak is a Liar" toned down).

Recently I was speaking with someone who was one of his detractors, to put it mildly. But she was saying the city needs that third voice once more - perhaps a voice not as strident as Ryan's but definitely that third voice.

You would think that a daily newspaper and a weekly newspaper would be enough for a city of just over 17,000 people.

The Daily News covers, what, 6 communities (Amesbury, Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury, Georgetown and Rowley)? The Current, the free weekly paper, covers primarily Newburyport and sometimes Newbury. Often the Current and the Amesbury News share stories because there are so many shared stories between the two communities.

We also have the Port Planet, which, by the admission of its proprietors, is published "whenever."

But - I was heartened tonight when a reporter from the Daily News told me he reads the local blogs every day. That means he is paying attention. During my short stint as staff reporter for the Current, the editor of that publication dismissed the blogs as being "just people's opinions."

Well, sure, that's what they are. But I can't tell you how many times I have referred to Mary Baker Eaton's Newburyport Blog for background on what went on before I moved here. More recently, I got 2 story ideas for the Current from posts on Tom Salemi's blog. People drop stuff , sometimes even sort of casually, and you have to be there to pick it up.

Anyone reading Ari Herzog's post about the NHS students who studied the quality of city water vs. bottled water for a science project could have run with that story (they found that, with a relatively inexpensive filter, the water quality between the 2 was basically the same).

And so it goes. Do we need another news source here, what with all the blogging? I don't know - but possibly we do.

Garbage Island

Leading up to Earth Day, I'm going to try and find environment-related stories on which to comment. This one struck me, big time:

I came across an alarming video/report on the CNN website. Apparently there is this large area of plastic floating in one remote part of the Pacific Ocean. It has a name: Garbage Island.

It seems that in this area, northeast of Hawaii, conditions are such that boats don't really go there - what does go there is plastic of all descriptions. It gets caught in the swirling water where there is little wind and just stays there. The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' is now twice the size of Texas.

As if that weren't bad enough, the report says, the plastic photodegrades. It's still plastic, but it breaks into little pieces. It makes the water look like the inside of a snow globe.

These little pieces, it continues, are gobbled up by small fish. The cycle continues until we get to the part where we humans have a nice piece of fish on our plate.

Eighty percent of the garbage found in the ocean comes from the land.

I have just one word for you: recycle.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Did anyone offer them any money?

Well of course the three beavers that showed up at PI Center did not help with beach restoration. No mention is made in this report in the Daily News that anyone actually offered to pay them for their assistance.

What, you think beavers just give away their services?

Nancy Pau, wildlife biologist at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, said the beavers likely got too close to the mouth of the Merrimack River, which pulled them into the ocean before they washed up on the beach.

I think also that beavers and other wildlife must be punchy now that it's (semi) warm. I saw a poor roadkilled beaver and an equally lifeless 'possum at the side of Rte. 1 on my way up to NH earlier today (to buy cigarettes).

So a reminder: watch out for wildlife - and more important, motorcyclists - while driving now that spring is here. Probably not prudent to swerve to avoid hitting a non-human animal in most situations, though. Unless it's my cat.

My solar panels trump your trees, so there

I found this is an interesting story; first heard about it on NPR this morning (driving back from NH where I was buying smokes). This account is from the New York Times.

Trees — redwoods, live oaks or blossoming fruit trees — are usually considered sturdy citizens of the sun-swept peninsula south of San Francisco, not criminal elements. But under a 1978 state law protecting homeowners’ investment in rooftop solar panels, trees that impede solar panels’ access to the sun can be deemed a nuisance (my emphasis) and their owners fined up to $1,000 a day. The Solar Shade Act was a curiosity until late last year, when a dispute over the eight redwoods (a k a Tree No. 1, Tree No. 2, Tree No. 3, etc.) ended up in Santa Clara County criminal court.

It seems that some of the redwoods blocked more than 10% of the sun that rightfully belonged to a neighbor's rooftop solar panels. At least according to California law. As can be seen in the image accompanying the NY Times story, at least one of the trees was "trimmed" down to the trunk. Lovely. The trees, by the way, were there first (it doesn't say so in the piece, but it looks as if to block the neighbor's house, a scant 17 ft. away); but they also put the neighbor's yard almost entirely in shade.

Take out the 'green' aspects of the story and it's just another typical neighbor-on-neighbor dispute, motivated by self interest and fueled by lack of communication.