Tag Archives: massachusetts

What’s Your Four?

7 Jul

Summer Reading 2017 - Bring me all of the books!

Have you seen that LitHub story about the book hoarders that’s been floating around the web? Both the Boy and I read it, which got us wondering how many books we actually own. I mean, we have a lot of books, but we also live in a smallish apartment, so there’s not a ton of space to really, you know, have a library.

And then we did a little bit of counting and a lot of estimating….and figured that we have probably close to 1,000 books.

Wow.

Considering that we have a problem with tsundoku, I’m feeling compelled to make a dent in reading what’s on the shelves. Luckily, it’s summer reading time in this part of the world, and I thought that this year, I’d take part in a little summer reading effort Massachusetts is promoting called Read Four.

Read Four is really targeted toward children and teens to keep them reading during the summer so they don’t fall behind when school starts up again; however, I will take their proclamation, “The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is challenging all [my emphasis] residents of Massachusetts to read four books this summer,” to heart, so I plan to read as much as I can this summer to stoke my creativity and feel less guilty whenever I look at the bookshelves in my home.

The stack above is what I’m hoping to finish in good time, and it includes the books I started reading at the beginning of summer. I’m actually on my fourth book now: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read a book by her sister Nicola earlier this year, but I picked up this book last Christmas during the annual family day-after-Christmas trip to Barnes & Noble. I’m hoping it’s equally as fun and escapist as my first three reads have been: the Sophie Kinsella, Rollergirl and Desperate in Dubai. All three have been breezy and entertaining–the last one particularly was fun for the cultural insight into Dubai, which made me want to go back even more (and also because I spent a fair amount of time looking up the Arabic phrases sprinkled throughout).

So those are my four–or nine, as the case might be. What are your four?

 

Two Women I Want to Be

11 Nov

On Election Day, I work the polls because I love being a part of the process, and I love watching people exercise their right to vote. [this year my polling place had a voter who came straight from his naturalization ceremony. Talk about a tearjerker!]

This year, I worked in Newton, MA, which is a pretty wealthy and liberal town and was a warden at a polling place in a community center. The warden is the manager in charge of the precinct, makes sure things go smoothly and takes care of all of the unusual situations, such as provisional and inactive voters.

An aside: Hey, guess what! If you don’t fill out your city census, the city doesn’t know that you still live there and will list you as an inactive voter, which means you’re flagged for being taken off of the rolls soon. Don’t complain about your lack of carelessness in forgetting to return the city census; don’t assume they’re going to take the time and taxpayer money to knock on your door and make sure you still live there; just fill out this little confusing form that makes you repeat your address and city a few times, and it’s gonna be all good!

Anyway, during the day, I got to interact with a couple of women who are the type of woman I want to be when I grow up: Ageless.

The first came in to vote, and she’s friends with the clerk (the #2 at the precinct). Dressed super-nattily*, glistening white hair. I look on as they chat:

Clerk: Are you going to aqua zumba?

Heroine #1: Not today. I’ve got cancer, so I’ve got to go to a treatment. [shrugs]

Shrugs!

They make a little more small talk, and after H1 leaves, the clerk turns to me and says, “Guess how old she is.”

“I don’t know…..70s?”

“She’s 90.”

Ninety. Looks in her 70s only because her hair is so white. Otherwise, I would’ve said 60s. Still driving, still doing her thing. Oh, and the cancer? Second time she’s had it, and her attitude is basically that you get the treatments, you get through it and move on.

But wait! There’s more!

One of the inspectors in my crew is a true gem. She’s been doing elections for decades (since the polling place was over at the Jewish school, but when they went kosher, they didn’t want the precinct to be there anymore because they didn’t want the food contamination–see, the history you learn, even if no one remembers when exactly that was), and was sometimes quick to remind me that she’s been doing this a long time.

Patriotic spirit? Whoa! Heroine #2 dresses for every election–this time it was navy pants, white blouse, navy sweater vest. Red necklace and earrings, American flag scarf, navy beret. Boy, I was envious of how she was able to pull off that beret!

Stamina? Most of the people I work with (old or young) start flagging at the end of the day. Not H2! She was still sharp and feisty at 9:00 — maybe a little crankier, but then so was I.

Age? Ninety-four. Also still drives. Sure, in the middle of the day, she put her cane–which she needs mostly for stairs–on the top of the car and drove off, losing it, but who hasn’t done something like that? I seriously think that if I went into this precinct in a decade, she’d still be sitting at the check-in table, checking people in with lightning speed.

These two ladies gave me some hope on Tuesday, and right now, that’s some hope in times where it seems that hopelessness might take over for a while.

*Note: Super-natty dressing might be a hard thing for someone who wears a lot of jeans and t-shirts, but I can learn. Thank goodness I started that subscription to Vogue.

What’s the First Rule of Politics?

28 Oct

Because I’m working the polls on Election Day, I voted early this week. It should’ve been an exciting experience–this is the first time Massachusetts is doing early voting, and it’s a historical Presidential election–but instead, it made me so angry.

The only contested election on my ballot was the Presidential election.

That’s messed up.

What happened to the choice? I live in a democracy! We’re supposed to be about being able to decide who should be running the main offices in our government at all levels. Where’s the Green Party or the Libertarians who are making such a stink at the Presidential level? Why aren’t they running for state office or sheriff?

I truly don’t understand how alternative candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have deluded themselves into thinking that the American public would really pick one of them when they don’t bother to let the voters get to know their party on the local level. They have no chance, and even if they did, federal government would have serious issues because the legislature likely wouldn’t allow them to get anything done.

In my area, the Republicans just gave up (they gave up in the primary too). Why didn’t they throw some names on the ballot? They have to hold meetings. They couldn’t stand around in a circle and say, “OK. We have to have some people running. Larry, you good with running for sheriff? Great! DeShawn, how about you run for state representative in your district? All right, that’s two races accounted for. Let’s get some more candidates, people!”

Even if your party doesn’t put you up, you can go as an Independent. It’s not like you can’t get on the ballot. I had to look longingly at the other ballot in my city because they had a choice in one race, and that was between a Democrat and an Independent. I even decided to do a legit write-in candidate because I wanted to have options and didn’t like the one choice I had.

Maybe your part of the country is different. Maybe you do have choices in other races. But if you don’t, then let’s agree that we’re going to do something about it next election cycle. Let’s stop all the lip service. Let’s stop all of the focus on one race. Let’s give the talking heads something to really talk about and analyze besides the minute-by-minute movements of two people. Let’s choose to give our voters real choices.

Heck, you don’t even have to put a ton of money into those races if you don’t want to. Treat it like a hobby–spend a small amount of money and some time and see how you do. Even if you don’t win, get involved and make a difference at the local level, because that’s where the real races are. That’s where you’re really affecting people’s daily lives. Are there really only one-size-fits-all candidates? Surely not. So let’s have some real choices–at all levels of government.

 

 

 

Postcard from Chicago

23 Jan

Oh yeah, that’s how this works.

I’m on the Dan Ryan, driving Ma Jaracz to Rush Hospital, and we’re in morning rush hour. Traffic’s pretty heavy, but still moving, and that’s when I see him: The Weaver.

Probably every area of the country can complain about its drivers because no one ever drives perfectly enough for someone else. [Cue the Boy’s latest lecture: When We Have Self-Driving Cars, None of This Will Happen]

I’ve apparently gotten very used to Massholes, because I complained like an old person when I saw The Weaver doing his thing, which, for those of you not from Chicago is someone who goes at least 15-20 miles over the speed limit and changes lanes like crazy just to get ahead of you–just in traffic, all of that weaving rarely really gets you ahead. And that’s the fun of dealing with Weavers — they try so hard to get around everyone, yet in traffic, that effort is pretty much for naught because they never have enough space to really floor it and speed off into the sunrise.

This is much different than the Masshole, who tends to drive the speed limit–or slower, if possible. They just do stupid stuff everywhere, which on the highway means driving 40 mph on empty roads, and on regular roads means running traffic lights 15 seconds after they’ve turned red, making left turns from the far right lane or making U turns anywhere and everywhere.

The Masshole is the type of driver I brought to Chicago on this trip. In trying to navigate to the proper hospital building, I took a wrong turn [par for the course in Boston]. The building we needed was right there, except a median was blocking our path.

Never fear! Take a right and at the stop light, make a U turn. Oh, I can’t make a tight enough turn? No big deal–just make it a three-point turn, because that’s what everyone does, right? [Note: Fifteen years in Chicago, and the only people who would’ve ever done those moves were cabbies.] Someone wants to drive around you? They can wait because…..fuck them (Unofficial slogan of Boston is “Boston. Because…..fuck you”).

As I made my Masshole move on Harrison Street, I felt embarrassed. This is no way to drive. It’s really no way to drive. It may invoke pride in Boston, but here, where people know how to make right turns at speed? It’s a little sad.

That changed on my way home. Even though I was driving an old-person Buick, I did at least 15 miles over the speed limit as well as a fair amount of weaving myself–since Chicagoans also have a problem staying out of the passing lane.

Man, did it feel good.

 

Will Run for High Fives

4 Jan

While I was out doing a New Year’s Day 5K last Friday, I came up with my running challenge for 2016. Now, I don’t consider myself a runner runner, but I like to do several 5Ks a year, mostly because a 5K is a way to get a half-hour (or so) of cardio in and you go someplace (even if it’s a big circle). Doing a bunch of 5K runs gives you something to work toward, and the races are good points of progress throughout the year. And maybe more importantly, if you do enough races, you build up an extensive wardrobe of t-shirts and other gear.

Now, I’m sure some of you might not think “doing it for the t-shirt,” is a really great reason to spend a lot of money on fancy running shoes and insoles and pound the pavement regularly, but I don’t always do it for the t-shirt. Sometimes I do it for the post-race snack or beer.

Oh wait, did you think I would say that I run for the health benefits and for some sort of inner peace that I get from escaping my desk chair and running all over the world? Fat chance. I’m also the person who spent five figures on grad school for equal parts getting to wear the master’s robe at graduation and getting to move to Chicago….oh, and yeah, because I was somewhat interested in library science as a way to earn a living. Of course I run for the benefits–all of them–and “health benefits” are as far down my list as library science was.

Anyway, I’ve noticed at 5Ks that you’ll sometimes get little groups of spectators. Some of these people are stuck in traffic (and are angry because they had no idea a 5K was happening that morning), but some of them are there to watch the race. Sometimes they’re friends of the runner out to support them, but sometimes, they’re just watching to watch. And that’s what puzzles me. Why watch a 5K? There are a million of them every week–it’s not a huge deal like a marathon. Why do random spectators watch a run-of-the-mill road race?

I’m not sure, but I’ve decided that my new running challenge will be to make people happy that they decided to be along the side of the road when I run by: I’m going to high five as many spectators as possible.

I’ll have rules for this of course–I’m not going to get in other runners’ way by beelining from the center of the road to the gutter. I’m also not going to weave back and forth trying to slap every hand that’s there.  My personal time is somewhat important to me, but let’s face it — I’m not winning anything, not even my age group until I’m in the 80-89 category, if I’m lucky. When you live in Massachusetts, you quickly find out how many real runners are around these parts. A couple of years ago I was excited to move up an age group because it meant I might place better. NOPE. Folks are serious about their long distance runs here. Heck, there was a guy who could’ve been in his late 60s–or he could’ve been a well-preserved late 70-something–running without a shirt on New Year’s Day in 40-degree weather. That’s no chump.

Anyway, if I’m out there pounding the pavement, stuck in the back of the pack, watching the people with their baby strollers race past me like it’s no big deal, I might as well have some fun with it. I consciously made an effort to do this during this New Year’s Day run the Boy and I did (free socks!), and while I think some of the kids were a little perplexed that a stranger wanted to high five them, I have to say that the energy they gave me put a little pep in my next few steps and kept me going. I certainly appreciated that too–when you spend good chunks of the race thinking, “Where in the heck is mile 1?” and, “No, seriously, we’re only at mile 2? I’ve still got a good ten more minutes of this crap?” and, “Wait. Are we going uphill again?” mixed in with whatever one fast-paced song that’s running a continuous loop in your head for 30 whole minutes (usually my brain mashes up most of the “Run Lola Run” soundtrack. This race I only had T. Swizzle’s sick beat in my head. For the entire three-point-one miles), you appreciate the good will that a cheering spectator brings–even if they don’t think they’re really there to cheer for you.

So if you happen to be at a race I’m running in the near future (I’ll definitely be doing the Cambridge 5K series this year), look for me and hold out your hand like a fun spectator–I’ll be sure to slap you some appreciation.

 

My Trusty Steed

19 Nov

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This year I’ve had to get back in the saddle–the bike saddle, that is. Back in the day, when I lived in Chicago, I was a somewhat dedicated bike commuter, and I had no problem riding my bike around the city.

Moving to Massachusetts changed some of that — true, I tended to ride less because the Boy doesn’t have a bike (it’s no fun to do long, leisurely rides on your own), but living in a place where the drivers are flat-out lousy really scared me out of riding much. But needing to live better scared me back into it.

I used to have access to our car during the weekday, and I tended to fit in most of our errands during the week so we could avoid weekend store crowds and traffic. The Boy commuted by train to his job and got a little bit of reading time.

Well, that changed this year when the Boy’s office shuttle service disappeared. The train station isn’t near the office, and to be honest, adding the price of a cab ride onto the cost of a train ticket wouldn’t be any cheaper than driving. So he took the car, and if I need to go anywhere during the workday, I have to figure out how to get there.

For a while, I walked to wherever I was going, and if it was really far, I hopped on a bus or commuter rail. This often took a lot of planning — a 30-minute physical therapy session often required a couple of hours round trip on the bus, because the bus schedule is a little more sporadic where I live. Even walking to the nearest grocery store meant budgeting a minimum of one hour–and that’s if I flew through the store. And I could only take home as much as I could carry, which meant “not much.”

“But Jill, why didn’t you just start doing your shopping at nights and on weekends, like everyone else?”

I’ve seen you people. I might slit my wrists if I had to battle everyone else on a Saturday. Even weeknight shopping can be a combination of many near-miss car accidents, long lines and irritable people who just want to get home. And I say this with a lot of experience doing grocery shopping during senior citizen hours, when a busload of seniors gets dropped off at the store for their weekly shop and then only know how to move slowly and have their carts take up entire aisles [the bonus of shopping during senior citizen hours is that it’s a reminder to go home and exercise so that I maintain some strength and mobility and hopefully age more slowly]. Plus, the Boy hates errands, so why burden his free time with them if I don’t really have to?

Anyway, this summer I got tired of how small my world had gotten due to the limitations of walking, so I pulled on my big girl pants and started riding my bike on the mean streets of Massachusetts, where if the potholes, garbage and debris in the roads aren’t going to get you, the Massholes might.

Even though it’s scary–and the Boy worries like crazy–my trusty steed and I go out on an almost daily basis. I still mainly do errands, but I’ve learned how to carry 100 empty bottles and cans to return them to a recycling redemption center. I’ve managed to tote a bunch of office supplies in my saddle bag and lug 22 pounds of groceries four miles–while a massive truck towing a bulldozer sped past me (honking furiously, like I could magically jump the curb)–all while managing to get the eggs home in quite decent shape. And I’ve learned how to rig up bungee cords to attach big boxes onto my back rack so I don’t have to awkwardly walk them to UPS.

All in all, since mid-August, I’ve put 150 miles on my bike (and that’s with me being out of town a lot), and gained about the same amount of confidence. Even though it’s getting colder and is a lot less fun to ride, the freedom the bike gives me is totally worth it. I try really hard not to be a cyclist Masshole who runs red lights and stop signs, and I still fear that some idiot is going to hit me some day. But I can’t not get out there and live the better life that the bike gives me.

 

Getting on the Right Side of the Law

25 Sep

Citizen Police Officer (in Training) Jaracz reporting for duty!

Wait — what? Jill, the closest you’ve ever really gotten to policing is talking about cop cars. Are you really training to be some sort of authoritative police person taking down criminals and busting jaywalkers in Massachusetts?

Well, as nice as it sounds to crack down on pedestrian crime (which is a topic for another post because pedestrian right of way is taken to a whole new level of crazy here in Massachusetts), no.

No, for the next twelve weeks I’ll be attending Citizen Police Academy, a program in the ‘Ham (what the Boy and I call our town) that teaches citizens about all the different things the police do in our community. It’s a pretty extensive way to do some educational outreach, but I imagine it goes a long way toward building rapport between citizens and the police officers (and hey, I get to see my tax dollars at work).

There are about 30 of us in Class 27, and we range from high schoolers who are interested in becoming cops to college students majoring in criminal justice to groups of neighbors who decided to take it together. One guy’s a repeat customer–took it ten years ago and wanted to see how things have changed. I’m here because one of my neighbors went through it and said it was really interesting.

How interesting? Well, during our first class we visited the training gun range, the intake area, the cell blocks, and the main on-duty/monitoring room. I learned that cops have gun training twice a year, and they’ll train for extreme weather conditions. The ‘Ham uses bean bag rifles for deescalation purposes. An officer hasn’t fired his weapon at someone in the line of duty for many years.

I also learned that if you want to drive after drinking, it’s good to make sure that you have $40 on you and that you’re wearing (or carrying) socks. The $40 will get you out of the cell block, and the socks will protect your feet while you’re in the cell block. They take your shoes away when they put you in a cell, and the floor is pretty nasty.

Actually, the cells are pretty nasty, especially the women’s. They each contain a cot (no blanket) and a toilet. There’s a phone where they can make collect calls (good story–they’ve had detainees call the station while they’re sitting in the cell block and just say, “You assholes!”). The men’s cell block is made out of plexiglass-covered bars–because you can’t have the bars exposed, since someone might try to kill themselves–but the women’s cells are solid walls with a solid door that has a small window at the top. And they smell. I’d imagine it’s pretty easy to go nuts in there (ladies, no matter how cute the shoes are and how small your purse is, carry socks!)

However, the Commonwealth mandates that officers check on people in the cell blocks every 30 minutes. The ‘Ham checks on them every 15. Perhaps that alleviates some of the stress.

When we toured the men’s block, there were a couple of prisoners in there, detained for whatever reason (no bail, no bail yet, have to wait until court’s open, etc.), and you could tell they weren’t too thrilled to see a big group of law-abiding citizens parading through, trying to avoid eye contact.

The other very important thing I learned was that if you jaywalk, you could be fined. One dollar. Multiple offenders? Those next offenses will also set you back $1 per offense. The only reason the sergeant who told us this knew about it because he writes the grants for pedestrian safety in the ‘Ham and had to look it up. No officer in their right mind would be ticketing pedestrians. What a waste of time.

If my citizen policery came with any actual powers though, I’d be spending my patrol time writing those tickets. “Crosswalk’s five feet away, ma’am. Let this one dollar ticket be a stern reminder to use it next time!”

So my twelve weeks of fun begin. On the schedule are visits to the 9-11 center, defensive tactics, field sobriety/breathalyzers, violence prevention, elder affairs, S.W.A.T. and more. We also get to shoot Glocks and go on a ride along. It’s going to be an exciting fall, my friends!

Killing the Hills

21 Apr

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Sunday in my neck of the world was one of those perfect weather spring days. Sunny, glorious, get outside. Today I’m also looking at a lovely sunny day, and I kind of want to ditch my computer (after I meet a deadline, of course) and go play. But yesterday? Patriots Day? Marathon Day? Completely sucked. Rain and cold combined for a pretty lousy day outside that probably played a part in how overwhelmed I felt by a lot of things going on (or not going on) in my life.

I hadn’t been to see the Boston Marathon in a few years–I was out of the country two years ago, and last year decided to avoid the crowds at the finish. This year I thought I’d check out a different part of the course, so I grabbed my cowbell and made my way to the start of the hill section and watch from there for a little while. I forgot to wear my waterproof shoes and grab a jacket that deflected water a little better than my windbreaker.

One of the reasons I don’t run marathons is because I can’t imagine running that far without causing some serious damage to my body. I’ll gladly do a 5K, and I’ve been known to train up to the 10K distance, but beyond that, my body just doesn’t like the pounding. I also don’t like listening to music while I run (and to be honest, I don’t like cheering for people who have their headphones in during the race) because I want to experience the race at its fullest. I also tend to have my running music going through my head regardless….though another reason that I won’t do races longer than a 5K is because I tend to either repeat snippets of these songs or mash them up, and if I had only a couple of minutes of the “Run Lola Run” soundtrack going through my head for four-plus hours, I’d go absolutely crazy.

The bigger reason I don’t run marathons is that for some reason, I get a little verklempt about the marathon as a goal. The massive numbers of people who’ve trained so hard for months, who want to realize this goal, and who are all doing it at the same time just overwhelms me. I can’t cry and run a marathon. Please. Where would I shove 26.2 miles’ worth of Kleenex?

So I stood in the cold rain for a couple of hours, cheering on all of the Steves, the Karas, the Heathers and the Mikes, the people running on Team Beef (best team name ever, Nebraskans!), folks from Denmark, Scotland, Colombia, Jamaica, Sweden, England, Germany, Brazil, Japan, this woman who’s planning to deliver a baby in six weeks, a 70-year-old guy who doesn’t look older than 60 and countless other people who were running for causes, running to win or running for themselves.

My favorite though was Brent from Alaska. He stopped by a police officer who was near me, gestured to the road and demanded, “What is this?”

The cop didn’t know what to say, so Brent kept going. “Are these hills?”

“Um, yes.”

“Let’s kill ’em!” And he took off running up the incline that would eventually become Heartbreak Hill. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t think to note his number. I hope he killed the rest of the course.

I wish I had killed the rest of yesterday, but I’ll be honest, some pretty big hills got in my way. Today’s a new day though, and it’s time to start climbing them again. Finish line’s just on the other side–not so far away.

Was It Me? Get Your Tickets and Find Out!

15 Apr

Hey Friends!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be one of the featured storytellers at Story Club Boston’s monthly story night. Each show features a theme that three featured performers riff on, and there’s also an open mic for members in the audience who want to play along.

I did one of SCB’s shows last year and am thrilled to be invited back. It’s always a fun evening, and organizer Ken Green does a great job at bringing interesting people together and providing an encouraging environment for storytelling.

This month’s theme is “It Wasn’t Me!” which will feature tales of wrongful accusations–or in my case, perhaps it’s an accusation dodged. What did or didn’t I do? Come on down to the Milky Way Lounge in Jamaica Plain on Monday, April 27 and find out. The show starts at 6:30 PM.

Hope to see you there!

Easter: A Time for Church Shopping?

8 Apr

There’s an old pastor’s joke that goes something like this: A pastor is greeting congregants after a Sunday service, and one man says to him, “You know, Pastor, I really like coming here, but you only ever preach about two things: Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death.”

I’m starting to become that joke. My regular attendance at church has a lot of ebbs and flows, and right now it’s really ebbing. There are many reasons for this, but one is because I haven’t quite found the church for me in Massachusetts. The one I started going to after we moved here ended up merging with another, and although the new church is fine, it’s what I call a “Power Point church”: It has a screen at the front where they project various things throughout the service. No need for a bulletin if you didn’t get one–you can just keep your eyes on the screen. I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to church, and I like a nice high service: Music, three hymns, some responsive readings, scriptures, a sermon and an offering. No screens. No contemporary service (which I refer to as a “drum set church” that is “clappy hands” — though if I went to a church with a gospel choir, I would expect clappy hands and potentially a drum set as well. I’m really talking about your average megachurch contemporary worship stuff).

The Power Point was a big turnoff–I don’t go to church to look at a screen–so my attendance floundered. I also couldn’t participate in the bell choir due to scheduling issues, so I just stopped going. Now that we’ve moved, it takes a little effort to get to that church, and I’m contemplating whether I want to keep going there or look elsewhere.

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