Mother's Day Reflection

I remember standing in the hallway to the front door. We used that door to run outside and play. When we had guests, which wasn’t all that often, they would come in the kitchen door next to the driveway.

On one side of the hallway was the coat closet, deep and dark. Besides boots and coats, there were various important papers, a collection of B.B. guns, and other things yet to be discovered.

On the other side of the hallway was a giant built-in book case. To a four year old that could only reach the first few shelves, it seemed like a three or four story building, although growing up in Williamstown, I didn’t have much of an idea of buildings that large. I often hung around these book cases. There were stories to be found there as well as great piles of paper from my aunt who worked in the paper mill.

One day, I decided to write my first book. I folded a few pieces of paper together and wrote a simple story. I don’t recall it exactly, but the title was something like “The Great Oak” and the story was something like “An acorn fell on the ground and grew into a big oak tree.”

My mother smiled and from then on, always encouraged me to write.

There was a big oak tree behind the house. It would shower the yard and the sandbox with acorns. Up in the oak tree was a shipping pallet, nailed firmly to a couple branches. That was our tree house. Further up the hill, there was a large rope, the kind you climbed on in school, hung from another rope between two trees. This was our Tarzan swing. We would climb up the hill, firmly grab the rope and careen out over the hill and back.

One day, I didn’t have a firm enough grip, so the rope flung me out over the hill and I couldn’t hold on. I’m not sure how far I fell, twenty or thirty feet, probably, and landed on my back in the bushes. The bushes helped break the fall so nothing else got broken, but it did knock the wind out of me and scrape up my back pretty badly.

I ran down the hill, trying to cry, but no sound would come out. No air would come out. I’d breathe in refilling my lungs, try to exhale and not have enough breath. Eventually, there was enough air in my lungs to let out a giant wail and my mother came running.

She tended the scrapes on my back, and soon, I was outside playing in the sandbox again. Another time, I ran out the front door of the house, my right arm extended to push the door open. But instead, I put my hand through the glass of the front door, and my mother tended those wounds as well.

It seemed that I was always accident prone, and my mother would to tend to the injuries, the broken arm, the concussion, the time I got hit in the head with a rock, which came fractions of an inch from killing me.

Beyond the injuries, there was always work to be done. We lived on a small farm and many of my memories are of planting seeds, pulling weeds and helping my mother can the vegetables. We would all sit around the kitchen table, snapping the ends of beans and cutting them into bite sized lengths. We would shell the peas, bag after bag of peas to be frozen, or we would husk the corn.

Another memory I have of my mother was standing next to her as she hung clothes out to dry. The clothes line was a long loop run on two pulleys. One end was attached to the side of the house and the other was on a tree at the edge of the woods. My mother would clip the clothes onto the line with clothes pins and give the line a little tug to move the wet clothes closer to the tree, and repeat the process. It was a quiet meditative time when I just enjoyed being around my mother. Yet for her, it was probably tedious. The endless clothes of four growing children must have been a burden.

The house was small and with two adults, four kids, and at times, a dog and a couple cats, very crowded. It was the top floor of a Sears’s kit and less that one thousand square feet. These days, it would be a trendy ‘tiny house’.

There was also all the cooking and baking to be done. My mother would bake our bread, as well as bake bread for communion at church. On special occasions, she would get together with other women of the community for sewing circle. That’s what girls night out was for her when I was young. They would gather and talk as they worked on the sewing or knitting that needed to be done. She would make two large tea rings. One, she would bring with her to the sewing circle, and the other was left at home for the kids.

She would bake our birthday cakes. For my birthday, we would get seafood from the Boston Fish Market. Money was tight, but I remember one year, we even went out to dinner at the Captain’s Table. That was the night that my Uncle Charlie, my mother’s brother-in-law, had a heart attack coming home from dinner and then spent a couple weeks in the hospital.

Yet I don’t remember much about parties on her birthday or on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it is too long ago and I have just forgotten. Perhaps, I was so caught up in my own world, that I don’t remember much about what was going on for people around me. Perhaps, some of it, was that Mother’s Day just wasn’t the big commercial event it is today, or if it was, we missed it because of how tight our cash was.

So now, I sit in my house, a year and a half after my mother died, doing what she always encouraged me to do, write.

Happy Mother’s Day

What a Week!

I started off May nicely, in the middle of a week where I managed to get a blog post up each day. Then, last Sunday, I hit the wall. Kim and Fiona had been fighting stomach bugs and Saturday night I started to feel queasy. I slept almost all day Sunday, but did manage to write a blog post about a recent poll.

Monday, I still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I powered through the day, and then didn’t manage to get a blog post up. Tuesday, my Samsung Galaxy Gears 2 smartwatch arrived. I set it up, but didn’t really get a chance to explore it much because I was going to drive to Boston for a wake. It seems like I’ve gotten to be an old hand at attending wakes, and I spoke with coworkers about wake etiquette.

Often, at wakes, there is the strange uncle babbling about something, or the dysfunctional family or work dynamics where one person tries to avoid another and others just keep a stiff upper lip. This wake was no different and I tried to help people focus on mourning the loss of a beloved sister, mother, aunt and coworker.

Afterwards, I went to East Coast Grill at Inman Square. It was a great dinner and an important time to decompress. East Coast Grill is known for its Hell Nights where food too spicy for me is consumed. During dinner, it was suggested that we head over to a magic show and several of us trooped down the street for this. It seemed somehow appropriate to the long strange day.

Hocus Pocus, hoc est corpus meam.

To end the evening, I headed over to my daughter’s apartment. We sat up talking about art.

The next morning, I drove over to the funeral. Wednesday morning, I was supposed to host a meetup back in Connecticut. I had sent an email to the group and another person volunteered to host the meetup at a different location. They sent out an email to the group, and I was glad that was settled.

However, on the way to the funeral, I received an irate phone call from a person who randomly attended a few of the meetups, but had never signed up for the mailing list. He went to the original location and found no one there. Afterwards, he called me. I explained that I was driving to a funeral and couldn’t talk. He said that he knew I was on the way to the funeral but was upset that he didn’t know the location of the meetup had changed. I told him that the message about the location change had gone out to the mailing list. He continued to rant, so I simply pointed out how inappropriate his call was and hung up.

It was a fairly traditional Catholic Funeral Mass.

And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.

After the funeral, I drove back to Connecticut, tried to decompress and started exploring the smartwatch. I’ve made a bit of progress and will probably have a few blog posts specific to the smartwatch coming.

Thursday, I tried to get back to normal, which included running late for dinner at my in-laws. When I did get home, I found that Wesley had had an accident. It was unlike him, and I wonder if he had eaten something he shouldn’t have. I believe it was also Thursday that the upgrade to the game Ingress came out. The highest level you could reach in Ingress had been 8, and I had been Level 8 for quite a while. They now expanded it to go up to level 16. I immediately jumped to level 10. I figure I’m still a month or two away from level 11.

Friday morning, I woke up with our cat Max on the foot of the bed. Normally, he doesn’t sleep there. Also, normally, when I head into the kitchen, he is under my feet, begging for food. Instead, he stayed on the foot of the bed. Did he eat the same thing Wesley had eaten?

At work, I focused on the upcoming symposium, writing about National Nurses week, and dealing with a couple communications issues. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. I stopped off for a drink with a co-worker, and headed home to dinner and bed.

This morning, I’m catching up a little more and will shortly head off to my daily chores.

A Different Read of the Gallup Poll

Recently, Gallup published a poll saying Half in Illinois and Connecticut Want to Move Elsewhere. This has garnered a few different responses.

The New Haven Register put it as Nutmeggers say higher taxes, cost of living forcing them to rethink living in Connecticut. They lead with

A lot of Connecticut folks are thinking seriously about moving out of state…

However, that does not appear to be what the Gallup poll is really saying. The question that Gallup asked was

Regardless of whether you will move, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move to another state, or would you rather remain in your current state?

Depending on my mood when asked that question, there is a good chance that I’d say I would like to move. If I had the opportunity to live comfortably in a nice house on Cape Cod, I’d probably move pretty quickly. Of course, that is very different from thinking seriously about moving out of the state.

In fact, when you look at the subsequent Gallup question of whether someone is even somewhat likely to move within the next twelve months, the 49% drops down to 16%, dropping Connecticut from being number two to just barely making the top ten.

The Register then gets its spin on the poll from the organization that lobbies for businesses in Connecticut.

There are a bunch of reasons, but cost of living and the cost of doing business are big ones, according to two state economists.

“Anecdotally I hear about taxes and the high cost of living and cheaper living in other places,” said Peter Gioia, vice president and economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “Some of it’s from business people; some of it’s from non-business people.

When we look at the data from the poll, however, we find very different data. In fact, nationwide, 31% of people planning to move within the next 12 months is work or business related. In Connecticut, it is only 21%. Instead, people are looking to move from Connecticut because of quality of life and cost of living reasons.

The poll does not give more detailed information about this, so I looked at some other data. According to the U.S. Census, Connecticut has the fourth most expensive housing in the nation for home owners and the seventh most expensive housing for renters. So, if people are interested in keeping people in Connecticut, perhaps we need more affordable housing. Yet I suspect that the many of the people who are concerned about the cost of living are also concerned that their property values don’t get driven down by more affordable housing in the state.

The Register article also quotes Republican Candidate for Governor, Tom Foley, saying, “I am disappointed, but not surprised, because people are attracted to places where they see opportunity and can feel optimistic”

This, of course, begs the question of opportunities to do what? Some people may be attracted to the opportunity to make a lot of money and buy a lot of stuff, but others may be more interested in opportunities to enjoy life and nature and help those around them.

I don’t expect to move to Cape Cod any time soon, there are still too many opportunities to help people around me here in Connecticut, opportunities that Mr. Foley seems not to focus on.

Online Video Tools

The annual Weitzman Symposium is coming up and at work, which we stream live every year. So, I’ve been exploring where things have been going with online video. It seems like there are a lot of interesting developments.

In live streaming, I’ve used a bunch of different tools. I did a lot on QIK years ago. However, that got bought out by Skype and shutdown. A friend gave me a heads up to save the videos, but I believe I was too late.

Another live streaming system I used a bit was Ustream. This is what we use at CHC. I’ve always liked UStream and they continue to be reliable. They have new software for streaming, called UStream Producer. I’ve only used the free version, which does most of what I want. The paid versions, Producer Studio and Producer Pro add options like multi-camera support and audio mixing. Not much new there.

The other real workhorse in video streaming is Livestream. I’ve used this a bit as well. They appear to be the first of the serious livestreaming platforms to work nicely with Google Glass. However, they organize their content around events as opposed to channels like UStream does. I find the event orientation a bit clunky.

I’ve also kicked around Justin.tv, ooVoo and Bambuser. None of them really have been that compelling for me, so I don’t end up using them often. However, I did use Bambuser from Raspberry Pi, so that was pretty cool.

In terms of video conferencing, at work we use Vidyo. I’ve participated in various Vidyo conference calls, and it seems fine, but I never really got a chance to get under the hood, so I can’t say a lot more about it. However, at work on Friday, we took a look at zoom.us. I was really impressed with it. The free version is very powerful, and the paid versions are pretty inexpensive for the features they provide. It is interesting to note that key investors includes Qualcomm as well as Patrick Soon-Shiong.

The other software that I started playing with is ManyCam. This allows you to switch between different cameras on a PC, screen cast, and even do some funky effects. I used it for doing some green screen broadcasting going out into both UStream and Zoom.us.

So, any other online video tools I should be looking at?

What A Lark!

I listlessly deleted unimportant emails and paused to reread an important one. One of my coworkers’ sisters died. It was the second death of a relative of a friend that I received this week. I glanced at the empty walls of my office. Out the window, I could see blue sky. The cold rain had passed and it was sunny and warm for the first time in ages. There wouldn’t be much more productive work today.

On my way home, I stopped and took a brief walk around the Wesleyan campus. A group of students gathered on one section of lawn, perhaps it was a theatre class. On the labyrinth a handful of students stood in a semi-circle singing madrigals. On the grass around the labyrinth a larger group of students sat listening intently.

I had once sat on lawns like these, listening to friends perform. Those were care free days. Sure, I had my struggles as did my friends around me. I knew of the greater struggles in the world, but only abstractly.

In my senior year of college, one of the best classes I took was on Virginia Woolf; five hundred pounds and a room of one’s own. Of course that five hundred pounds, converted to current U.S. Dollars is about two thirds the price of a year at Wesleyan. How many of the students sitting on the lawn around the labyrinth had daddies who could provide them with the modern equivalent of five hundred pounds and a room of their own? From such a perch would they be able to see enough of the human condition to write great novels?

Yet it wasn’t A Room of One’s Own that came to mind as I strolled across the Wesleyan campus. No, the words that came to me were, “What a lark! What a plunge!” Yes, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would but the flowers herself.”

I thought of my friends who had recently lost relatives. I thought of the economic and health disparities in our country and the armed conflict around the world. “The war was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft … “

How does one hold all this in one’s mind, the beautiful spring day with the college students gathered around friends singing beautifully, the suffering of friends who had lost relatives, the daily struggles of the overlooked poor? Perhaps writing would help. Perhaps it helped Virginia Woolf, but was it enough?

I returned to my car and continued my commute home. Traffic on the Parkway was heavy, so I took the back roads. Switching roads and switching writers, I found myself on a road less traveled. Not two paths diverging in the woods, but getting off the parkway for the local roads. Yet, for me, like Robert Frost, that has made all the difference.

So now, I am home, having had a quick dinner. Next, I will head off to bed, for tomorrow will also most likely be another long day.

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