27 October 2019


I was on the way to work the other day, when I walked past five tidy tree pits, freshly planted with ornamental kale. In the middle of each pit, nestled up to the tree, was a plastic rock.

I've been thinking about how one waters new trees in tree pit street plantings, because our town has just planted a whole lot of new trees as part of a street-scape rehabilitation. There are no visible watering devices, but the town claims that the trees are being watered by hand. I hope so.

What I've seen in the past are those cone-shaped plastic bags that wrap around the tree. The water seeps out slowly and the bags need to be refilled periodically.

The rocks were, arguably, less unattractive.

I mean, it's clearly a PLASTIC rock, but it's not that awful.

Idly, because I have eclectic interests, I googled "tree watering rock" (as one does) and found the manufacturer of those very rocks!

I confess to unmitigated glee when I learned that said tree watering rocks are good for admonishing existing sprinkler systems. Enhancing? Augmenting? Intensifying? No, admonishing.

Herewith, I admonish the copy writer. Use the right verb!

13 October 2019

Not So Blank Books

I confess to being a sucker for a blank book. So, I wasn't surprised when I spent time cleaning out under the packrat child's bed and found, oh, upwards of twenty of them.

Some were untouched.

And some had two or three or seven pages written or drawn on, and then ... nothing.

So - I put a few of the virgin ones aside, and set to ripping out the marked up pages of the others so I could put them in the Take It Or Leave It pile.

But ... but ... but ...

I couldn't not "keep" a few things.

From a book of "lists", I learned that she wants to take a road trip to the Mid West, that she doesn't plan to marry Marquise or have 20 children, and that she needs to go down a zip-line at least once. (Also, she used to spell poorly.)

I am happy to report that she has, in fact, been down a zip-line at least once.

A book with a wolf on the cover, a book that I remember to have been bought in Yellowstone, where we heard a lecture about wolves, included a poem.

in and out of trees,
a White Ballet,
Flying over the fresh snow,
the king of the forest,
Protecting his family for Life.

And finally, one book included a list of cat names - for girl cats and boy cats.

My mother always said she was going to name a cat Puifor, as in Puiforcat, the French silver company. How delightful to find Puifor on the list.

10 October 2019

Oh To Be An Undergraduate Again. Or Not.

Death on the Cherwell

Death On The Cherwell, by Mavis Doriel Hay, was a fun read, perhaps because I'm a sucker for books set in colleges - especially Oxford ones. It grabbed me from the second paragraph, which so beautifully describes new college students - past and present:

Undergraduates, especially those in their first year, are not, of course, quite sane or quite adult. It is sometimes considered that they are not quite human. Emerging excitedly from the ignominious status of schoolgirl or schoolboy, and as yet unsteadied by the ballast responsibility which, later on, a livelihood-earning career will provide, they enter the university like beings born again with the advantage of an undimmed memory of their former lives. Inspirited by their knowledge of the ways in which authority may be mocked, they are at the same time quite ridiculously uplifted by the easy possibility of achieving local fame in the limited university world during the next three years. Conscious of the brevity of their college life, they are ready to seize every opportunity to assert their individuality. The easily acquired label of “originality” is so much more distinguished than the “naughtiness” of their outpassed schooldays, and quite a lot of wildness may be mixed with a modicum of work and form a sound basis for a highly respectable later life.

It's a twisty silly mystery, but enjoyable - and sometimes that's just the ticket.

06 October 2019

Four Days In Montreal

As you will remember, I have an internet friend, one of those people I’ve never met, and yet – YES, SHE IS MY FRIEND. The internet is awesome. Anyway, said friend and her husband jet off periodically for long weekends, and call them “Crazy Trips™”. I like that designation.

We – my kid, my husband, and I – made a Crazy Trip™ last weekend. We left Saturday, returned Tuesday, and spent three nights in Montreal. I had never been there before, the child had a four day weekend thanks to Rosh Hashanah, and she had expressed interest in visiting McGill so…

We stayed in an unremarkable hotel in the downtown, walking distance to both McGill and old Montreal.

The child practiced her French – reading the instructions on the parking meters, transacting business in shops, ordering Timbits in a Tim Horton’s. (Despite taking French into college, mine is now non-existent.)

We ate well:

  • Oysters and grilled octopus at Belon
  • Viande fumée (smoked meat) sandwiches at Schwartz’s
  • Bagels (natch) at St-Viateur
  • Coffee at a seemingly unnamed coffee shop a few doors away from the bagel place (it must have a name, but it wasn't on their business card or on the credit card receipt)
  • Breakfast (pastries, and yogurt/granola/fruit) at La Finca
  • Sandwiches in a funky garden at Café Santropol (it seemed like the sort of place that would have alfalfa sprouts on the sandwiches but no sprouts!)

The best meal was at larrys – it was a hodgepodge of little dishes: a pork chop, some roasted cauliflower, a flammkuchen, a salad of peaches and corn and feta, and some warm goopy eggplant. And maybe some other things that I can’t remember. And a lovely unfiltered white wine from Germany that I need to chase down.

Shopping was fun – we wandered up and down Saint-Laurent marveling at the many small clothing shops selling stuff manufactured in Montreal, and the myriad vintage shops, and a French language bookstore (where the kid picked out a copy of La Nausée). We stumbled into the Montreal outpost of Fluevog; the kid didn’t want to leave. I bought a tiny little silver necklace at Boutique Unicorn, the child got a fuzzy bucket hat at Ophelie Hats.

And we succumbed to tourist expérience immersive: the entirely kitschy yet exceedingly well executed sound and light show – Aura – at Notre-Dame.

Notre-Dame is lovely.

Of course, we went to the top of the mountain.

We also did a drive by of Habitat 67. (I wanted to go on a tour, but it was sold out.)

We sort of kind of accidentally ended up on the F1 track, which caused great joy for my husband.

I was amused by a sod failure.

The city has an enormous amount of construction going on, and still has evidence of manufacturing including flour mills and silos. I don't know what this even is, but I liked it.

We visited McGill which is rather enormous. 28,000 undergraduates!

And then we came home.

La fin.

12 July 2019

Scenes From The Road

Last weekend, we undertook a five day, 1500 mile road trip, to drop the kid off at a summer program in Nova Scotia. Yes, it was arguably insane. On the other hand, it was delightful.

* * * * * * * * *

Somewhere on I-495, a woman was reading a book on the back of a motorcycle.
This may have made my day.

* * * * * * * * *

Because there is currently no ferry from Maine to Yarmouth, we had to drive to Saint John and take the ferry from there to Digby. It was completely socked in on the way to Nova Scotia.

And brilliantly clear on the return.

I love ferries.

* * * * * * * * *

The western end of Nova Scotia - between Yarmouth and Digby - is lovely, lightly populated, and seems to have had a Radio Shack once upon a time.

And NO, I did not flip the photo.

* * * * * * * * *

On the way home, we sailed through the border crossing at Calais and stopped at the first rest stop in Maine, an Irving. We pulled into a spot next to a parked SUV with New Jersey plates. As I was getting out, I spotted a large parrot, sitting on a cage in the passenger seat of the SUV. Then, I noticed that there was a woman in the driver’s seat, with a smaller parrot perched smack dab on top of her head. She was reading something on her phone, and never looked up, or I might have tried to chat with her. I went off to do my business, and when I came back, she was still there.

But what I really want to know is, does she drive with the parrot on her head‽

* * * * * * * * *

The car has a GPS system, and I have Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze on my phone - so we weren't suffering from lack of direction. But here's the thing: a paper map is really nice. It gives you a far better sense of where you've been and how far you have to go - namely, in this case, nearly all the way across the widest part of Maine. Happily, Maine was handing out free maps at a rest area/info stop.

The map folded into six panels, so I could announce "we're two and a half panels across the state!" or "just one panel to go!". It amused me, at any rate, and kept me from being ridiculously bored.

02 July 2019

Winners Take All

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldIn May 2019, there was an op-ed in the New York Times by Anand Giridharadas – in which he talked about tainted money and the “growing awareness that gifts to the arts and other good causes are not only a way for ultra-wealthy people to scrub their consciences and reputations. Philanthropy can also be central to purchasing the immunity needed to profiteer at the expense of the common welfare. Perhaps accepting tainted money in such cases isn’t just giving people a pass. Perhaps it is enabling misconduct against the public.”

Working, as I do, in the non-profit sphere – I decided I needed to read his book, Winners Take All.

It isn’t just a take down of a certain kind of philanthropy – it’s also a take down of the idea that “world citizens” will change the world through apps and shoes and other feel-good entrepreneurial activities. Because, in point of fact, all of that activity is occurring in an unregulated, unaccountable arena, and it would be better to accomplish problem solving through civic life: “It is the habit of solving problems together, in the public sphere, through the tools of government and in the trenches of civil society. It is solving problems in ways that give the people you are helping a say in the solutions, that offer that say in equal measure to every citizen, that allow some kind of access to your deliberations or at least provide a meaningful feedback mechanism to tell you it isn’t working. It is not reimagining the world at conferences.”

Here’s a concise summation, from page 246:

"If anyone truly believes that the same ski-town conferences and fellowship programs, the same politicians and policies, the same entrepreneurs and social businesses, the same campaign donors, the same thought leaders, the same consulting firms and protocols, the same philanthropists and reformed Goldman Sachs executives, the same win-wins and doing-well-by-doing-good initiatives and private solutions to public problems that had promised grandly, if superficially, to change the world-if anyone thinks that the MarketWorld complex of people and institutions and ideas that failed to prevent this mess even as it harped on making a difference, and whose neglect fueled populism's flames, is also the solution, wake them up by tapping them, gently, with this book. For the inescapable answer to the overwhelming question-Where do we go from here?-is: somewhere other than where we have been going, led bv people other than the people who have been leading us."

We need a society with laws, with rules, with a civilized infrastructure. It’s not enough to address a problem without looking at the large scale root. “Think of the person who runs an impact investing fund aimed at helping the poor, but is unwilling to make the connection, in his own head or out loud, between poverty and the business practices of the financiers on his advisory board.” We’re all in this together. And Giridharadas’s book is worth reading.

14 May 2019

Childhood Dream

When I was five, I used to walk around the house saying I wanted to be a philanthropist. Honestly. I have no idea how I knew that word, or if I knew what it meant, but that's what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I also had a baby doll named Howie Dirks. I named the doll after a friend of my parents' because I liked the way it sounded. Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks.

I digress.

This morning, I had the great good fortune to attend the New York Women's Foundation annual Celebrating Women breakfast. I've been hearing about it for years, both because they give awards to badass women, and because the event is at the ungodly hour of 7:30am. So, when someone I know invited me to be her guest, I instantly said yes, even though it meant getting on a train at 5:40am.

This year's awards went to a mix of women you've heard of and women you haven't:

Abigail E. Disney
Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Activist

dream hampton
Filmmaker, Writer, and Organizer

Cyndi Lauper
Co-Founder of True Colors United / Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning Artist

Rhonda Joy McLean
Attorney, Author, and Philanthropist

Sarinya Srisakul
First Asian-American Woman Firefighter of the FDNY / Former President of the United Women Firefighters

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega
President of the Creative Justice Institute / Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

The whole event was inspiring and empowering; there was a warmth in the room engendered by 2000+ women supporting one another and good causes.

Rhonda Joy McLean, in the department of women I had never heard of, was terrific. In addition to ending her acceptance speech with a song, If I Can Help Somebody, she made my day when she said "you do not have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist!"

Because lord knows I'm not a millionaire, but $25 here and $50 there, and hey, I am a philanthropist - just like I wanted to be when I was five.