April 06, 2017

National Theater Live: Twelfth Night Live Cast

I snuck out this afternoon (fittingly, in a bit of a local maelstrom) to see Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, livecast by the UK's National Theater Live over at Cinestudio.

Quite a delicious production. The usual gender swapping of the play (Viola disguising herself as a boy Cesario, and being taken for her brother Sebastian) was abetted by gender swapping two key parts - Malvolio (written male, played amazingly and heartbreakingly by Tamsin Greig) and the clown Feste (Doon Mackichan).

Gender was not the only game in town, with several male relationships leaning to or perhaps crossing over into the sexual, and the fourth wall coming down a bit as Greig includes the front row seats, and Daniel Rigby's Sir Andrew struggles with (and marvels at) the amazing rotating, three dimensional set and all of its various doorways, trapdoors, and contrivances. Reviews of the play on The Guardian, Time Out, and the Telegraph.

One struggle I had was the casting of black actors as Viola / Sebastian (the only two principal POC) and it seemed a little tone-deaf - do they look alike to a mostly white audience? I'd have much rather seen a more uniformly diverse cast and a pair of siblings that were a little more playfully similar looking (a metrosexual Sebastian and a butchish Viola?). And this may be the play itself but when the sibling reveal comes, I had not gotten enough sexual tension between Orsino & Viola / Cesario and Olivia's love transferred to Sebastian seemed unconvincing.

That being said, definitely worth seeing the encore performances (Cinestudio on April 16th). I love Shakespeare live when I can see it but the National Theater Live livecasts are the next best thing!

March 10, 2017


Once upon a time I could rely on my canine early warning system to alert me to distantly ringing doorbells, arriving delivery trucks, and just about anything else that he considered a threat or an intrusion. Even a doorbell on the radio or television that sounded like the real one would set him off.

In recent months, however, little Elo is slowing down a bit, losing his edge in the hearing department. Several times the doorbell has rung while I've been in the basement and he's not even aware of it. I've taken to keeping an ear out and have even myself wandered upstairs (thinking I've heard the bell) to find nobody there.

So I've scouted out the doorbell wiring (running openly in the basement ceiling) and DIY help on adding a second chime (I'll need to use the existing wiring as a pull wire to run a second feed from the old chime to the new chime)

But pretty simple stuff. I might even do a little audio browsing for a more mellow chime and buy two of those, and replace the more traditional "ding-dong" chime that came with the place.

March 07, 2017

Unusual Birthday Gift

What do you get for a somewhat precocious three year old for his birthday?

My brother suggests, for his son Griffin, "...his own key set if you want to get creative. He loves real keys."

I considered the gauntlet thrown down. Digging around electrical safety / contractor sites, I found a set of lockout padlocks - color coded, differently keyed.

Add some plastic key markers / collars to match (found those on Amazon) and a colorful, kid friendly key ring (to be purchased) and it's a color matching toy, a fine motor control toy, and a key obsession toy!

And since there are two sets of keys I'll make sure to put a second set of keys together for daddy, just in case Griff decides to lock something up secretly and daddy does not discover it until later.

March 04, 2017

Thanks, Mom

Mom passed away back at the end of 2016 . . . and after a flurry of activity as we cleaned out her assisted living and found homes for the things she had brought with her from her condo, we've been slowly finishing the process of settling her fairly simple estate.

Mom did a good job of not leaving a physical or financial mess for us to deal with. We went through the bulk of her possessions as she transitioned into assisted living last summer - I took a few pieces of furniture. But really, nobody wants your parents' stuff. So what remained were the things she used daily, and her memories and keepsakes.

She assigned a destination for her keepsakes - china, silver, jewelry and art while she was alive, and three of us got "assets" - I took her car (a 2010 Chevy Malibu, just 35000 miles on it), my brother purchased her condo (at a low-ball price, with a bunch of mom-funded improvements, her gift to her youngest grandchild), and my sister got her diamond ring (a reasonably pricey rock, who knew dad had it in him). I ended up with the "good china" - 12 settings plus serving pieces that dad ostensibly picked up in Japan when he was stationed there. I really did not want it - lacking a dining room, china cabinet, or the sort of life where I dine with 2 people, never mind 12. But after initially demurring, and noticing mom's palpable disappointment, I told mom I'd take it. I was not going to sell it while she was alive; but I recently price-shopped it on one of those china replacement sites that buy china - and found the offer for this particular set ($1 for a cup & saucer, $2 for a dinner plate) to be so ludicrously low that I'd be paying them (in terms of shipping costs) to take it. So if anyone wants to do a formal dinner.....I'm ready.

Mom was worried about money - but we did a back of the envelope calculation when her health started to fail early in 2016 and knew her money would probably outlast her. So we were happy to spend her savings down to make her comfortable and support her over the last year. Though her time at the assisted living was a bit more expensive (due to her need for personal care towards the end), she left a small sum of money to us as a legacy.

Her will split her assets five ways (four kids, plus one young grandchild); we independently decided to gift the brother who did not get a car / condo / diamond with $10K off the top to even things up. That left us each with about $14K, with another $8K to split via a life insurance policy. We decided to set a bit aside (just in case) as we finalize taxes and such; this past week I received a check for $12K.

It was not what one would consider a "set for life" windfall, but to me it's a wonderful boon - permitting me to completely pay off my consumer debt and to fill my retirement account for 2016. I set up the final credit card payments today, took some time to consolidate all my various monthly payments (a handful of charities, video subscriptions, and digital / office subscriptions) onto one card, and took the opportunity to cancel a few things I was not using (a music subscription, an online fax service, an amazon prime extra). My plan is to close out one of the two credit cards, use the second for subscriptions and online purchases, and pick up a lower cost / more reputable one for travel and "just in case".

It's a good solid "spring cleaning" of my finances - I'll be saving money (avoiding interest payments), reducing my monthly bills (my card payments were maybe $300 just to keep things at status quo), and keeping a better eye on the expenses I do have.  Who knows - maybe I'll even start to save or more fully fund my IRA.

It has felt as if mom were reaching back, to take care of me for one last time. And as I was telling this to a friend on the phone, I noticed a rare feeder visitor - a female cardinal. I'm not much for signs and spirits in general, but mom and her friend June had shared a belief that a cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed, and my sister has carried that through her passing, funeral, and over the past few months. I've got a suet feeder going though the colder months, and though I see a regular crew of woodpeckers, nut-hatches, titmouse, sparrows, and grackles, cardinals are not regulars. It felt a little like an affirmation, a blessing. 

So thanks, Mom. While I have not had to rely on your for money for money since right after I went out on my own, knowing you were there was always a comfort. I've been missing you a lot over the past weeks, more so than right after you died.  Know that even in death, you've reached back to take care of us....as you always did. 

Cleaning up the Neighborhood

Was a little brisk to police the neighborhood today, but I was out earlier in the week with the unseasonably warm weather. I thought I had blogged about my habit / custom of picking up the neighborhood, but I see that Facebook sucked that particular energy out of me. So I thought I'd collect some social media musings here in only place . . .

Jan 14, 2013: On nice days like today I grab my litter pick-up tool ($1.99 at Harbor Freight) go pick up trash outside. It makes me feel better about my place and the neighborhood, and I'm all set for a chain gang / community service if it ever comes to that 

Oct 9, 2015: Heading out for my periodic policing of the neighborhood trash. Taking a big bag today because I know there's at least one pizza box out there. #hardhitten #newbritain

Mar 17, 2016: One of my little foibles is patrolling my neighborhood, picking up litter. I have a little litter-picker-upper stick (Harbor Freight) and generally pick up a grocery store bag worth of junk 2-3x a week.

David Sedaris was definitely an inspiration; walking my dog one day and feeling particularly punk about the condition of the area, I got one of those divine hits - who else is going to do it? Me, apparently.....

April 18, 2016: Dear Residents of Planet Earth:

If you are out hiking and eating an apple and chuck the core into the woods, that's cool. We'll take care of it.

If however, you eat an apple every day at lunchtime while you are walking around the neighborhood, take two bites, and chuck the mostly uneaten fruit under the same tree every single day so there's a dozen or so uneaten apples rotting....not cool. Such behavior will be duly noted on your permanent record.

Love, the Management

Dec 31, 2016: In other news, I took a real garbage bag out to do my regular neighborhood litter patrol this morning. I usually can get by with a small grocery store bag, but things had piled up between the snow, the holiday, and my attention being elsewhere. Neighborhood is officially cleaned up in time for 2017....

Now, I am fairly certain that my litter picking had it's roots in the humor of David Sedaris, although my routine predates this New Yorker article - Stepping Out: Living the Fitbit Life. I am, however, a somewhat obsessive listener of public radio that I am sure I'd heard David talk about his own litter picking, planting the seeds of my own habits.

I clearly recall the moment I started - walking the dog, noticing a rather trashed neighborhood of bottles, fast food trash, and other detritus, and thinking somewhat disdainfully "Whose job is it to pick this stuff up?". The answer came back swift and sure in that voice I've come to recognize as my own divine nature "Yours."

And so I venture out once a week or so - as time and weather and need dictate - with an inexpensive pick-up stick and a small plastic bag, and pick up the neighborhood litter. It may have started incrementally - policing the condo property when I took over as president, and expanding outward - now I've got about 1500 feet of city street I consider my turf.

It's a lower middle class neighborhood with a couple of manufacturing facilities - so I get a mix of household trash (fast food, kids meals), smoking material (packaging, cigarette and cigar butts), a reasonably frequent stream of liquor bottles (nips and 500 ml, mostly), and a smattering of soda, beer, and other beverage containers.

I don't recycle stuff (sorry, I have my limits, at least it's off the street), I tend to leave anything natural (including pet waste, branches, apple cores, etc.), and I wander down in front of the nearby apartments only on weekdays (when the tenants cars are not on the street) and when I have room in my bag (tends to be a lot of litter down that way).

I'm sure the neighbors think I'm crazy or scrounging for deposit containers. Although one guy walking his daughter did say simply "thank-you" recently. I have to say it makes me feel better about where I live; and I do scan my turf as I drive to and from home for fresh litter and make a mental note to get out for a clean-up. 

The biggest challenge for me is to send metta, loving kindness, to the folks for whom I am cleaning - the residents, tenants, homeowners, factory workers, and random passersby whose litter I am picking up. It's interesting to watch my mind try to descend into judgement, stereotypes, disdain. On my bad days the dialogue goes like this "the human beings are kind of pigs; glad I'm not one of them". On my good days, still that separation, but more kindness and love - like a mother cleaning up after her kids.

February 23, 2017

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

The death knell seems to have begun for Sears.

Sears, Roebuck & Company and I go back a long ways. When I was a kid, the annual arrival of the Sears catalog (and most importantly, the toy section) was an annual sign that Christmas was coming. My sister and I would take turns with it, putting cryptic notes beside things we wanted. There was an art to it - often a particular brand or type of toy would have multiple choices from low cost to extravagant, and we'd carefully gauge our preferences based on what we might have a chance of getting.

Oftentimes, simply looking at the toys and imagining owning them was more fun than actually having them!

And as a young, proto-trans kid, the dresses and women's clothing pages of the Sears catalog were an accessible, and fairly risk free read - I could quickly flip over to the toys if I were caught in a bit of wishful reverie.

Later on, Sears Auto Center became my go-to place for tires, batteries, and simple car repairs. My Sears charge card was the first consumer credit I had (in college, maybe in high school on the basis of my fast food job) and it was a little financial relief valve for bald tires, dead batteries, sketchy brakes on the junkers (an AMC Hornet, a Dodge Colt Vista) I drove back then, on a part-time, fast food income. I have clear memories of the Sears Auto Center waiting areas at the Natick Mall (MA), the Waterbury Mall (CT), and Corbins Corner (West Hartford).

When I got out of college and into my first apartment and first job, my Sears charge card bought a "Free Spirit" 10 speed bike, a Kenmore vacuum cleaner (which I finally let go in 2013, 30 years after I bought it). Probably some home electronics as well. It was the place to go for good old American value in the days before big box retailers and online shopping. Not the cheapest. But solid, reliable.

When I bought my first home, a 1930's cape in Waterbury with a lot of projects, Craftsman power tools and hand tools began to fill the basement, a Craftsman lawn mower cut the grass, and Sears tools to tend the garden, trim the hedges, water the lawn. I suspect a Kenmore washer and dryer were in the basement, although I'm not 100% sure on that one. I recall being thrilled when the first Home Depot opened in the area, and again when it came to Waterbury itself. And I spend a lot of time at Lowe's these days. But back then - it was invariably Sears and Craftsman. In fact, as I type this, there are two Craftsman tool boxes within eye shot, in nearly mint condition 30+ years later, and I could quickly dig out a Craftsman drill, a few power saws, a heat gun, and a full set of ratchets and wrenches.

Sears became a habit for other things. Eyeglasses, long before Lens Crafters. Basic clothes - Levi's and underwear and socks. Shoes (they hooked up with Lands End at some point). I've never been much of a clothes horse but even I knew that Sears was kind of stodgy and unfashionable; still I'd pick things up there now and then.

I closed charge account more than a decade ago; I think the last thing I bought from them was a Die-hard car battery for my old Saturn. It's been years since I've done any serious shopping there (or gone to a mall, for that matter).

I've seen a lot of retail come and go over the years - from Mailman's and Hill's department stores in York PA, to Bradlee's and Caldor's and Zayre when we moved to Massachusetts. Montgomery Ward. G Fox. Sage Allen. All gone. JC Penney (still with us). In some ways I am a child of retail - after a few years cutting his teeth at Univac, Dad spent his working life in the IT departments of McCrory (York, PA) and Zayre (Framingham, MA)

But something about Sears Roebuck and Co, and the brands associated with the company, sticks with me. I'm at an age where I am starting to lose things - parents, friends, celebrities, brands, stores. Although my changing shopping habits are probably part of the reason it's slowly dying, I shall be sorry to see Sears go....

January 24, 2017

Private vs. Public Education

We're, by and large, Catholic school kids in my my family. I put in 12 years (grade school and high school), my sister did an 11 year sentence (8th grade in public school as the family moved to CT). My brothers less so - one had a single year (1st grade) until a sharp nun diagnosed dyslexia and suggested a better resourced public school, and one got public school grade school and four years of Catholic high school. And we definitely had a Catholic school bias; as a smart, soft, bullied kid, I appreciated the Catholic school discipline that was no doubt abetted by the threat of expulsion; public schools (our mythology went) had to keep trouble-makers, making the school less safe for a kid like me.

Early on, I realized my father was playing a little fast and loose with the tax laws. He realized that our catholic school tuition payment checks were coming back endorsed by the Archdiocese of Harrisburg, so he started making them out to the same.  And since those checks were indistinguishable from those he put in the offertory envelope, he took those payments as a charitable deduction on his taxes.

Kinda sketchy from a tax law standpoint, yes. But his logical argument in favor had some merit - he was paying for public school tuition through his taxes; and we were not using that resource, so he'd at least get a bit of tax relief from that. Dad was the kinda guy who would discuss such legal / ethical issues with me, which was kind of cool.

So thinking about Trump's education secretary, I kind of see the side of the argument that private schools could perhaps be subsidized or in some way given tax relief. Every child not in the public school system provides less of a drain on public resources; parents who make those choices should get some sort of relief.  I'm not a fan of any of Trump's nominees but I definitely see the draw of that sort of opinion.

Yes, there are HUGE ramifications in terms of the haves and have-nots, in terms of privilege, race, class, wealth. Mom and Dad were not wealthy, but they valued education and put us kids first. Not every parent has those priorities or the tools to make that happen. And yeah, as the public school system suffers a brain and wealth drain of kids going to private sector schools, the whole system suffers but especially poor / urban towns and cities.  

I do not have kids, so the reality is *I* am paying to educate all of your little rug rats. And I definitely get that educated kids with opportunities and a future benefit all of us. And I have many friends with kids with special needs that are dependent on public education.

No good answers here. Unfortunately, so much hinges on parents that are functional, educated, have resources, and prioritize their kids education. As someone whose parents had all that, we benefited. Many kids, through no fault of their own, have less effective parents. 

January 21, 2017

Lamination Nation

If I were a super-hero and had a super-hero "powers" listing, one would have to put "Laminating" near the top of that list. I'm kind of a laminating fiend.

It started with my folk festival; when I took over the performer merchandise back in 2007; I started to laminate the festival schedule for the merch tent tables. The nature of Falcon Ridge is that any paper left out overnight become dew sodden and damp; laminating the schedules mean they stay fresh and useful throughout the fest; taped down to tables throughout the tent. I would also laminate signs for yoga classes (posted at the festival entrance).

In 2010, I got drawn into the yoga studio teacher training program. It took me a few years to feel comfortable making suggestions / changes; it also took a few years for my name to appear anywhere in the literature or digital marketing, so it felt a little like probationary period. But in 2013, I realized that a document with all the teacher trainees smiling mug shots would be useful for the staff. It's a big group (35 - 45 trainees) and skewed a bit towards younger, female, and healthy, so there's a lot of folks who kind of look alike. So having a photographic class roster really helps us to get to know the trainees sooner.

Yesterday, as the trainees showed up and signed in, I grabbed a quick photo (sort of like a passport or photo booth; not the best pictures to be sure) and this morning, I cropped and imported into a document that has been reused each year. It's kind of a "final nail in the coffin" for the Class of 2016 (who are now alumni) and an official recognition of the Class of 2017.  Sent them off to Fedex Office (nee Kinko's) to be printed, picked them up, and laminated them just now.

Looking back, I've got a similar document for the past five years - 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017. I ought to print those out someday and make a poster. All the lives that this training has touched.  Our legacy as a studio. And my legacy for whatever I've contributed.

January 17, 2017

Two Bibles and a Birthday Card

As we sifted through the small pile of personnel effects from mom's assisted living apartment, we found a box of mom's treasures. Each of got a small priority mail box last week; of things in mom's memory box that pertained to us. I jokingly called it a crying box this weekend; because opening the box and going through it elicited many tears.

In my box, a handful of cards that mom had saved; a few pictures, an envelope full of colorful Indonesian money. I must have given mom the remnants from a business trip to look at, and she had saved it.

I was particularly moved by a birthday card I had given her in 1991; long before mom's illness began to take her down, long before she knew of my gender issues, in the middle period when I was starting to deal with my big life project via therapy. I knew gender was an issue - but had not yet started to deal with it.

An odd card for a 30 year old (then) son to give to a mother. An odd card for a mother to decide to save.

Also in the Jude pile, a large print edition of the New American Bible that I had apparently gifted mom in 2001.  No doubt it was on her list; for many years we'd pass around lists in the weeks before Christmas to facilitate appropriate gifting.

I actually have a New American Bible, procured somewhere along the line. As a Catholic high school student, we studied the bible at least one of our four years; I have vague memory of a different bible that got beat up quite a bit (name written on the fore edge, highlighting, notes in the margins, ragged cover through use and rough transit). I think I picked my present copy up during a retreat as a young adult; it's in pretty good shape. I actually had it out recently (looking for appropriate readings for mom's service, before we knew we were restricted to a handful of readings).

Also strange for someone like me to have two Bibles. I'm pretty avowedly non-Christian - not because I strongly disagree with the teachings and beliefs, but because:
  • In this country it's such a dominant faith
  • It's invariably seen as exclusive and it leaves out so many non-Christians
  • If / when faith-based judgement and hate comes my way it's invariably Christian rooted. 
  • I've read up on the apocrypha sufficiently to realize that what has come down as canon is not the sum total of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; and perhaps not even the best part of those teachings 
I am a spiritual person; and while I strongly identify as a former or recovering Catholic, I no longer consider myself a Christian. And now I have two bibles....strange.

Long Lost

Found in a photo box of mom's photos:

That's my father, William J. Russell, and me, circa 1961. We shared the planet for 18 years; but as far as I know, this is the only photo I've seen of the two of us together. And a photo I never knew existed until today.

In the midst of mourning, small shards of joy....

January 08, 2017

Agnes Russell Memorial Slideshow

Put this together to show at mom's memorial luncheon - sped up the transitions for YouTube...

Eulogy for Agnes Russell

As I began to contemplate mom’s life, the first lines to a poem by Mary Oliver kept coming to me:
I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
And it struck me that mom has had more than her share of disappointment and sorrow in her 80 years.

As a young woman, fresh from nursing school and with a job and income of her own, she excitedly purchased Christmas gifts for her friends and large family.  She was heartbroken when her gifts were stolen from her car. Some folks would let something like this harden them, embitter them - yet for mom, Christmas remained her biggest joy. Regardless of our family finances or situation, Christmas was always a time for church, for family, for effusive gifting. Each December 26th I’d get a call from mom, reflecting “what a nice Christmas we had”. Mom collected angels, religious figures, and Santa Claus figurines – her home was filled with them each December. In the words of Charles Dickens, she “kept Christmas well”.

I added this extemporaneously: And looking around this church, beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, I have to believe that this is exactly how mom would want her funeral to look. Well played, mom!

In the mid-70s, our father Bill lost his job in York, PA; and after a few lean years, found work in Framingham, MA. It was with deep sorrow that mom left her friends and family in Pennsylvania for an unfamiliar New England. She made a life here, yet her heart remained rooted in Pennsylvania. Never one to spend lavishly, she purchased beautiful Amish inspired artwork for her home which brought her much comfort. And she has stayed in close touch with her family through these many years.

In 1979, her husband died. As we each aged into our 40s, we reflected on how painful and difficult it must have been for our young mother, newly widowed and raising four children alone without nearby family or old friends. She had to quickly learn how to run the household, manage money, re-enter the workplace, and take on both parental roles. She got all four of us through college, and only one of us has been arrested. (point to self)

After dad died, she could have packed up her brood and moved back to Pennsylvania to be closer to her family and old friends. But she knew that we had established lives in Massachusetts, that we had been uprooted once already, that it would be best for us kids in many ways to stay where we were. So she stayed put; sacrificing her own needs for ours, maintaining the family home until we were fledged, then moving into a condo in Framingham where she lived until recently. Mom’s residence, wherever it was, remained the place that we gathered together, the place we called home.

I know that she struggled deeply, being a single woman in a world that revolved around marriage and couples. Over time, she gathered a circle of beloved women friends, and each time a friend became widowed or single, took that person under her wing.

And finally, when her health began to fail, and took her into retirement in the mid 90s, it would have been easy to drop into sadness, into infirmity, into victimhood. But mom drew upon her nursing skills and began to manage her heath, without complaint. When her health issues began to overwhelm her at the start of 2016, she finally (and reluctantly) allowed us to help her. “Now we’re all on the same page” she said at the time, and we began to realize the cross that mom had been carrying quietly and bravely over many decades.

I know it’s a strange remembrance, this litany of disappointments, of struggle. Mary Oliver’s poem goes on to describe a life lived in bitterness.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
But that is not the life that Agnes Russell led. Though life often dealt her sorrow, she was forever looking on the bright side. That optimism was perhaps best expressed by her love of games – bridge, bingo, scratch tickets, not to mention occasional trips to the casino with her friend June, first to visit “The Donald” in Atlantic City, and later the casinos in Connecticut.  She loved to make things – quilting, knitting, crafts, cooking & baking – often for a worthy cause or for those less fortunate.

She was, first and foremost, a mother. If she had a fault, it was in loving us too deeply; in not wanting us to be hurt. We have each had to learn how to take risks; that to fully live and to fully love we must take chances, must risk being hurt. But as we made our way through the world, we did so with the confidence that mom was there to catch us and to comfort us if we were to fall.

Her favorite day of the year was Mother’s Day, when the Birthright folks would pass out carnations at church, and she always took an extra one for our brother Tom’s birth mother. Of all of us, his connection to mom has always been something very special – mother and child, yes, but also very deep and sacred friends.

The four of us shared a little “inside humor” about mom - if one of us was going through a hard time – work, relationship, money, life – we knew that child would become #1 on mom’s worry list; and the others would breathe a sigh of relief for having dropped down to 2nd, 3rd or 4th on the list. We’ve each spent some time in the #1 spot over the years.

She took keen interest in our lives – in childhood surely but also as we moved to adulthood. And that interest extended to her grandchildren – she was a grandmother who showed up for every concert, play, sporting event, graduation, and birthday. And her large heart and interest extended to the friends and classmates of each of us, as well as her grandchildren – she was everybody’s mother, everybody’s grandmother. We’ve only managed to get her four grandkids, but she had room in her heart for 40. Kevin’s young son Griffin has been the apple of her eye the last years of her life. It was so lovely to see her mothering emerge even in the midst of her illness.

Kathy’s kids – Joe, Sara, and Sean – have a funny “Nana” story. She was attending a play at Sara’s school, and at intermission went to the refreshment table where the kids were selling cookies and cupcakes. Mom had a hankering for a bagel and asked if they had any. She was forever after “Nana Bagel” in the Quirk household, and she laughed along with the joke.

And she was always looking out for the underdog – taking special time and energy with nieces, nephews, and friends who perhaps had a harder time, making a point to stay connected to relatives that had moved away from Pennsylvania. When she gave up driving, it was not her own independence that she mourned, but concern for her friends who she had been driving to events, shopping, church, and errands all these years. And to the very end of her life she was knitting blankets for newborns, concerned about the other residents at her assisted living facility, concerned that she was taking up too much of our time.

Mom has taken to reading Mother Teresa’s book in the past few years; it was always by her bedside, and she was so thrilled to see Teresa canonized this past year. So I’ll close this morning with a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta
“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home.”
Love us and take care of us, mom, you most certainly did. And we so very much love you, miss you, and are grateful to have been your children.

Agnes (Trees) Russell

MARLBOROUGH: Agnes (Trees) Russell, 80, a longtime resident of Framingham, MA found peace Friday December 30, 2016 at Christopher Heights Assisted Living In Marlborough,MA. Born in 1936 in Lancaster, PA., Agnes received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Lancaster. She served in the US Navy (RN/Lieutenant), and worked as a dental receptionist and as a food technologist for the US Army Labs in Natick, MA. However her highest vocation was raising and loving her children and grandchildren. Widowed in 1979, Agnes found deep reserves of strength, love and humor which she has passed along to her children and to all who knew her in life. She was active in St. George Catholic Church in Framingham.

Agnes' heart remained in Lancaster Co., PA- her home was filled with Pennsylvania Dutch art, her recipe book was full of German family favorites, and her fondest times were reconnecting with her family at reunions and weddings. Games brought her much joy- joining friends for bridge or bingo, a trip to the casino, or sharing a lottery scratch ticket.

Pre-deceased by her beloved husband William, she is survived by her children: Judith, Kathleen (Quirk), Thomas and Kevin; a son-in-law: Thomas Quirk and grandchildren: Joseph, Sara, Sean and Griffin. Agnes will always be "Sis" to her siblings: Gerald, Robert, Charles,Donald, Jean, William, Elizabeth, Mary and Joan. She is fondly remembered by many wonderful sisters and brothers-in-law, as well as 43 nieces and nephews, and scores of the next generation. She also leaves her life-long friend and partner-in-crime, June Quinn of Cherry Hill, NJ. She joins her parents Agnes and Charles, her brother Gerald, niece Angie (Trees) Wilson and dear friend Rose DiStefano in God's loving arms.

There are no public funeral home visiting hours. A memorial Mass will be celebrated Saturday January 7, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at St. George's Church, 74 School St., Framingham (Saxonville). Her urn burial will take place at a later date in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Bausman, PA. Memorial gifts in lieu of flowers may be made to The National Parkinson Foundation, 200 SE 1st Street, Suite 800, Miami, FL 33131 in honor of her brother Jerry; also online at www.parkinson.org. Memorial page www.boylebrothers.com

November 10, 2016

Election 2016 - The Winter of Our Discontent

As I contemplate the election of Donald Trump, I am reminded of Richard III's monologue at the start of Shakespeare's play: 
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;   
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty   
To strut before a wanton, ambling nymph;   
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,   
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,--   
And that so lamely and unfashionable   
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;   

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,   
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun   
And descant on mine own deformity:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,   
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain        
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
My life, in a nutshell, has to push against, to resist the sort of anger and resentment voiced here, that lies deep within my psyche. To resist the urge to descend into bitterness, violence, Machiavellian schemes.

Barack Obama was the first president who gave any indication that I, as a transgender woman, had value, had worth, was a whole person. It was not at all popular to grants transgender rights, to appoint transgender staffers, to welcome transgender activists to the White House, and yet he did that.

And the enmity and slander voiced against our first African-American president by many, including those in my own family, I take very, very personally. 

So yeah, the past few days have been difficult. I have no doubt that among President Trump's first actions will be to revoke the rights and recognition that President Obama extended to people like me. Do not fear for me; I carry a lot of privilege and have the tools to blend in, become invisible, insulate. Most transgender individuals are not so lucky. But yes, I will and shall take that very personally - both as I interact with our President and government, and with those who have supported him.

There is a Cherokee story that has been woven into our teacher training program
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
 I need to continue to feed my good wolf, and to begin to starve my bad wolf. And that means holding myself apart from those people in my life who trigger my anger and fury.

November 08, 2016

No Gongs, Bowls, or Sound Meditations for Me

Apologies to those who create these energetic spaces. I'm not opting in.

I am both a musician and an engineer. My college project involved tearing apart a musical instrument (the marimba) sound - harmonic content, envelope, variation across the instrument range and striking force - create algorithms to describe the sound, and design circuits to duplicate the sound. We made a "one note analog circuit" that one could tweak / adjust to recreate any note on the instrument.

I cut my teeth on analog synthesizers - no MOOG, but we had an old ARP 2600 to mess with.

Of course, digital sampling came along and made all that analog design stuff kind of passe. But it's deep in my psyche, and my work and hobbies (power quality / sound reinforcement) have continued a focus on harmonics, spectrum analysis, waveforms, etc.

So yeah, when I lie down on the mat and you start gonging and chiming and ringing and droning, my left brain starts to go to work - analyzing the sound, pulling about the harmonics, drawing the envelope. That stuff keeps me firmly rooted in my monkey mind. Not a good fit for me.

I'll take silence and stillness, any day.

November 01, 2016

Life Update

So, what's new with me?

It's been a rough year. Not in any of the more traditional ways - work has been busy; health has been stable, I've been a bit more financially stable and sound than in many years. Nevertheless, I've been in a bit of a slump or malaise for quite some time. Not exactly sure I can put a finger on it but I'll hit the major hobbies and communities and see where this takes me.

Making Music

The Guinea Pigs had a bit of a slow summer. We've had some personal issues (family members needing care, injuries, busy work life) which have kept us from doing too much playing out. And we seem to have been a bit snake-bit in terms of gigs. A Blue Back Square gig got rained out after the first set; a Wethersfield Farmers' Market gig got canceled due to illness, a Billings Forge Farmers' Market gig got canceled because it was the day of their farm-to-table fund-raiser and they were cutting back on the noontime farmer's market.

Nevertheless, we played a set at Blue Back Square (before the rain got us), the last Wethersfield Farmers' Market of the season, and a really wonderful fundraiser for the Manchester Community Refugee Resettlement Group (MCRRG) to sponsor a Syrian refugee family at UUSE in Manchester that raised $950. We've learned a few new songs - Blue Bayou / mashed up with Under the Boardwalk, and Ex's and Oh's which was fun. I'd love to see us network a bit more - the Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival, the Connecticut Farm and Folk Fest, and the Meriden Daffodil Festival should all be within reach.

Audio-Video Geekery

Once again, I supported (which is to say, I provided the entire sound system) for the annual Om Street: Yoga of LaSalle event which this year drew ~2000 attendees. There are a bunch of videos of this event available, including a great (and official) time-lapse, and something more professionally edited, but I like this one because it documents the scale of the event (close to 800' of street) and the sound system working all the way to the back....

In a less positive space, I attempted to promote a wonderful duo, The Levins, at West Hartford Yoga in October. Five people showed up. Disappointing to say the least - they deserved better. I deserved better. I quipped afterwards, "Every couple of years I need to give this community the opportunity to break my heart, and it never fails to do so". So I'm set for a couple of years of introversion and vague bitterness until the wound heals and I let myself hope again.

Hearing Music

Falcon Ridge was, by all accounts, fabulous this year. I would not know - between campsite buddies not showing up early and significant issues with facilities, I spent my "hang out and relax" days camped alone, worked non-stop and had a pretty shitty time of it. Our falling apart merch trailer never made it to the site, a replacement was found, but our supplies (carefully curated over 9 years, and carefully packed away each year) were in the old trailer. Some never made it to the fest, what did show up was too late to be really useful. It made for an extremely cranky Jude.

Still not sure what it means for the future - I suspect I'll be back but probably looking to camp alone closer to the merch area.

That being said, I got a lot of music under my belt this year; with trips to the Sounding Board, Iron Horse, Bridge Street Live, Folk Fridays, Infinity Hall, Unity House Concerts, even up to the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse in Franklin MA for a CD release party. Love live music and gonna keep showing up...

Balloon Chasing

More of the same. I did a presentation on social media at the local balloon club safety seminar in January; enjoy sharing my experience and wisdom there, although not a lot seems to stick. We've flown a bit this year - mostly out of Bethlehem, which is a bit of a truck. I did get a photo voted into the balloon club calendar:

The judges (whoever shows up for the contest) tend to have a "more balloons in the shot = better" criteria, so I rarely get something chosen, but this one is nice.

Yoga  - Teaching

Ironically and with no real comprehension as to "why", everything is awesome. My two weekday All Levels classes continue to be very well attended (occasionally with more folks on the mat than the hot / power class in the larger studio next door). I picked up a 4:30 pm Friday gentle class (the teacher was leaving town) and though it seemed like it was going to be a temporary thing; I've built a bit of a following there as well.

I know I'm a good teacher, and should not be surprised, but considering the struggle I have with my own practice, it's difficult to understand. By all rights my teaching should be falling apart; and it appears not to be. My internal story - each class is tinged with bittersweet energy "this is the yoga I want someone to teach to me" and it's not happening.

I remain engaged with the studio Teacher Training program - very hard and long weekends, very rewarding. More bittersweet as the trainees engage in the practice and making life changes that I seem incapable to connecting to these days.

Yoga - Practicing

Not much to say here. I practice at home enough to keep my body limber and strong enough to teach, but I have not unfurled my mat in a studio in months. There's just too much emotion and pain wrapped around the  studio community - feels like if I broke in the way I need to break, I'd never teach there again. I'm a little too old, overweight, and chronically injured to get much out of the studio's hot / power classes. Seems like I've gotten a little too much of a look behind the sanctuary wall to let go with many of the studio teachers.  So yeah, still kind of stuck.

On the positive side, I've redeemed a very generous gift certificate (bestowed back in 2011) for a May 2017 workshop called Big Magic and Bold Music, with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) and Rayya Elias. So even though it's not really yoga, well, it's AROUND some yoga. One of those "not really sure why I am drawn to this, but I am, so let's see what's there" situations that I've come to expect and trust over the years, but which have been sorely missing from my life.

Testing . . . Testing . . . One . . . Two . . . Three . . .

Hey look, there's a blog here.

Pretty sure that this is a personal record for not blogging; my business blog has seem more action than this one has of late. I've shaken up my work life a little bit of late and hoping to be a little more engaged with life (personally, professionally, etc.) as a result. Time will tell....

But, for the moment anyway, I'm back...

July 17, 2016

Checking In

This blog has been pretty dormant of late (social media continues to suck the life blood out of my personal blogosphere, although my work blogs are still simmering)

However, in light of the recent killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I ponder how long the 2nd amendment of the Constitution will remain intact given that the folks with heavy arms are persons of color (rather than crazy lone wolf white dudes), and the persons being killed are police officers, rather than children, queer folk, or random bystanders.

I'm trying not to get too deep into the mud on this stuff:
  • Most murders are committed with handguns, not rifles or "assault weapons" 
  • Gun deaths, and the murder rate in general, are falling
  • Most gun deaths are suicides, nearly 2:1. In some ways, I feel as if the rigor with which the 2nd Amendment is defended is as an alternative to a more enlightened policy on assisted suicide. In darker moods, I note that gun owners are killing themselves faster than they are killing the rest of us.  
The plight of black persons remains heart-breaking - mass incarceration, black-on-black crime, racial profiling, ongoing discrimination, the economic disadvantages of generations of slavery and subsequent discrimination - all of these by-products of an open wound in this country.

I do not support violence as a means of creating change. But I certainly understand how people reach a breaking point, and something snaps.

And oh yeah, the Dallas and Baton Rouge shooters were both veterans / victims of our ongoing wars in the middle east. We train these guys in the art of killing, we expose them to horrors both internal and external, and then bring them back into a racist and prejudiced society without a lot of support or opportunities, but with easy access to guns and ammo.


May 24, 2016

Guan Yin / Avalokiteśvara

I'm not really sure how or why I stumbled across this particular bodhisattva. Serendipity works that way. When one is ready, something (or someone) drops into the path.

Wikipedia has a quick overview:
Guanyin is an East Asian deity of mercy, and a bodhisattva associated with compassion as venerated by Mahayana Buddhists. The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means "Perceiving the Sounds (or Cries) of the World". She is also sometimes referred to as Guanyin Bodhisattva.
It is generally accepted among East Asian adherents that Guanyin originated as the Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara. Commonly known in English as the Mercy Goddess or Goddess of Mercy. This bodhisattva is variably depicted and described and is portrayed in different cultures as either female or male. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has become the somewhat different female figure Guanyin

According to Mahāyāna doctrine, Avalokiteśvara is the bodhisattva who has made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty and to postpone his own buddhahood until he has assisted every sentient being in achieving nirvana.
I'm not really sure why, but there's a deep resonance here. I'm in a place in life of serving, of providing nurturing and support to others even as I am unable to partake of that myself. It's happening in my yoga practice - even as my skill and popularity as a teacher increases, I find it a struggle to practice except on my own. I teach the practice I want to take but find it so difficult to connect with the practice as led by others. Similarly, I am the cheerful and kind voice of the Christmas season for clients.