Surviving the Western Mass Apocalypse

Well, it wasn’t really THE Apocalypse, but, after a week without heat or electricity or phone, and with temps in the house falling to about 45 degrees at night, it sure felt like it could be.

The snow started a week ago a few days before Halloween, and it looked like this.

In three days, it looked like this:

We lost half of the ancient maple tree, the leaves of which were just beginning to turn, and it probably will have to be taken down completely. We lost pieces of the maple in our front yard as well and portions of various trees that form the edge of the property that borders on conservation land. Two days ago, my daughter went out and bought a chain saw.

With a gas stove and gas-heated hot water, at least we were able to eat and wash the dishes during the icy winter week. Our unheated but enclosed porch became our refrigerator as we tried to save as much food as we could.

By the time that the snow finally stopped, power, phone, and cable lines were loosed or down all along our street (and all over this part of Massachusetts). The storm’s strength took out the power so quickly that we didn’t have a chance to charge our cell phones and laptops. We husbanded our battery flashlights and the meager amount of dry firewood that we had available.

We all hunkered down in the living room, blockading its doorways with blankets. This is my grandson, trying to keep warm on the mattresses and quilts piled on the living room floor.

Lines began to form at the gas stations until finally there was no gasoline left within an hour’s drive of our town. I had about a quarter tank of gas in my car and eventually went out to charge my Iphone.

Thankfully, my daughter and son-in-law had the foresight to move our cars far enough onto the property to avoid any limbs that might fall from our neighbor’s rotting oak. One limb did fall — right where our cars would have been. It settled itself over all three power lines that run above our driveway (cable, phone, electricity), blocking our ability to back out when the storm stopped. Eventually, a very helpful neighbor with a chain saw cut off enough of the branches so that the cars could get out; but the limb remained, threatening to take down the lines completely.

The property taxes in this town are pretty high, but the upside of that is that the town set up an emergency shelter in one of the schools, with cots lining the gym and three free meals a day for anyone whose homes were without power. They distributed water bottles, showed movies in the afternoons, and lined the main hallways with chairs and surge protectors so people could charge their phones and laptops. Eventually they even had wifi.

They were staffed with volunteers that paid special attention to all of the elders who flocked there for the only support they had available.

We were finally able to get gas, and then the two main grocery stores opened with generator power. There was nothing available that had to be refrigerated, but we were able to pick up soups and breads and, of course, lots of Puffs tissues.

We got our power back yesterday, exactly (almost to the hour) a week from when the storm began. The tree limbs are off the wires, but we still have no landline phone service.

Having been sleeping in a 45 degree bedroom, dressed in multiple layers — including a hat — and burrowed under two blankets and a quilt, I now am close to understanding what the homeless must suffer in cold weather.

What I wished I had available were old fashioned rubber hot water bottles for my feet and hands and a book light that used regular batteries. I have ordered these in preparation for what I’m sure will be coming down the pike this winter. We also will be buying some kind of generator so that we can keep the house at a livable temperature should we find ourselves, again, faced with this kind of winter misadventure.

But we survived. My grandson is recuperating from an terrible sore throat virus, and my daughter is exhausted from taking care of him, tending the fire, and feeding us all. Hestia lives in her. Me? I was just too cold to be of much help.

too soon old, too late smart

I am about to go to war.

I didn’t take the advice of friends and family and went ahead and bought a brand of computer that turned out to be the mother of all lemons. It had problems from day one, but, a persistent bitch that I am, I kept calling the customer service techs and kept getting each problem (I thought) taken care of. Until it finally totally crashed.

So, they sent an on-site repair person, who put in a new motherboard and hard drive.

Uh uh. Still no boot up.

I’m trying to get a refund but cannot seem to be put in touch with someone who can take care of that. (It’s a couple of weeks past the 30 days during which one can do a return.)

Today, I did what I should have done before I ordered the infernal machine and googled for complaints about that company. I found hundreds. Maybe even thousands.

So, I sent a letter to the company, enclosed copies of some of the complaints that I copied from just one website, and gave them a choice: give me a refund of the price of the computer and the service contract that I bought with it, or I’m going to war. Online. Virally. Maybe even with a youtube plea to that company to take pity on a poor old lady living on a retirement income. Certainly with a website that documents all of the thousand complaints about that company. And then I’ll tweet and fb the url. And I’ll file my own complaints on every consumer complaint site I can find.

I will become a thorn in their side, an enemy to the death — a hellcat of an old lady whom they wish they had never met.

I might be old, but I’m internet smart and know how to use it as a weapon in my defense.

Unless they refund all of my money and email me the UPS postage to send the damned thing back; then I’ll back off. As the Tao de Ching says — “no fight, no blame.”

But if they don’t — well, did I ever tell you that Xena is my idol?

ADDENDUM: Actually, the retailer from whom I bought it has just about as many complaints. Maybe I’ll make this fight a two-fer.

treadmill meditation

I don’t run. I walk with my eyes closed, holding onto the bar that measures my heart rate. I up the incline a little. Up the speed. Little by little.

I like walking with my eyes closed, but I can’t do that out in the street, where I would probably fall and break a hip. But it works here, in the exercise room at the Jewish Community Center, where it’s never crowded and the mirrors never reflect any hot young and toned females reminding me that’s it’s been a half-century since I was one of those.

I am meditating on my new gravatar, and I know that if I were a half-century younger, I would have my own mythic Avatar. She would probably look at lot like Xena.

I would be a player. Or, more accurately, a gamer. I actually don’t know much at all about gaming, but I “know” some interesting gamers because I follow them on Twitter — because my son follows them on Twitter.

There’s a whole subculture out there of gamers — of bright, creative younger people who Tweet and FB and blog and tumblr and instagram and flickr and all of those oddly spelled connective mechanisms that people my age usually have to look up on Wikipedia.

I’ve become a real fan of Felicia Day, a young woman of so many talents and creative projects that she takes my breath away. There’s no point in trying to describe her here, since her website has all the relevant information. You really should check out her funky youtube video of her song “Don’t You Want to Date My Avatar.” I’ve even gotten sucked into watching her , The Guild. It’s like I live on another planet from these creatives.

So, I’m on the treadmill, meditating, sort of, on being who I am. Not a gamer. Not even a player. Just a little old lady whose heart rate is up to 135 and I do, indeed, need to take a breath.

I open my eyes and look straight into the mirror into the mirrored eyes of a really good looking gray haired guy, who is working out at one of the machines in front of my treadmill. He smiles. He can’t be smiling at me, I think, but I smile back anyway.

Later, as I get up from the ab-crunching machine, he’s standing nearby, cooling off. He obviously takes this exercise thing a lot more seriously than I do. At least I get that impression from his trim physique and the gym shorts and fingerless gloves he is wearing. “This is a good time to come here,” he says to me. (It’s just a little after noon on a Sunday, and the place is almost empty.)

“Yes,” I say, smiling back. “Except it’s such a nice day out there. It’s a good day to be outside.” (Duh! What kind of a response is that??) For a minute we talk about the weather. I move on to the recumbent bike. He moves onto the the free weights.

Now I’m pedaling and thinking about the fact that I have no makeup on and barely ran a comb through my hair before I left home. I don’t come to the gym to meet men; I come to try and get my cholesterol under control and increase my stamina.

I might have to rethink all of that.

I’ll meditate on it.

not quite Kansas

The dark sky made it obvious that a storm was brewing the other day as I sat on the front steps, waiting for my daughter and grandson to drive back from Holeyoke, where he had a vision therapy appointment. I went inside and put on the weather channel, just to find out how bad the storm was going to be.


Huh? A tornado in western Massachusetts? And it seemed to be developing just behind the path along which my daughter would be driving — Route 5, and I91. I called her. “I’m almost home,” she says, when I tell her there’s a tornado warning and I hear the stunned silence at the other end of the phone. “I’m almost home,” she says, again.

I go back to the television, where the live sky cam on top of a local tv station in Springfield is showing the gathering clouds and slowly forming funnel.

In a few minutes, my family is home, unloading groceries. I am glued to my television as I watch the funnel sweep through the city and cross the Connecticut River less than 5 miles from our home and across the highway that my daughter had traveled on not that long ago.

It’s been three days since we’ve been able to watch tv or flick on a light switch to see where we’re going in the dark. But we have flashlights and batteries and a gas stove and a public library in the next town with power and wifi.

And that’s where I am now, charging my dead cell phone and catching up with email on my netbook. Even my Nook is recharging, since about all we’ve been able to do for entertainment in the evenings is read. By booklight. I’ve also been able to listen to some books on tape that I had downloaded from the library onto my iphone (which is part of the reason that I’m now recharging it).

Now I’m going to go and look at the news sites to find out just how bad the tornado damage is just a few miles from me. Without the television and internet, I have no idea. Thank goodness for free public libraries and wifi.

What a world!

one Republican’s good idea

There are very few issues on which I can agree with most Republicans. They want less government interference; I want more government oversight. They believe that everyone should be able to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” I believe more in the “I am my brother’s keeper” socialist philosophy of Jesus Christ (even though I am an atheist).

“Government of the people, for the people, and by the people” is what our country’s founders intended, with “people” meaning ALL citizens or the representatives thereof. That means a strong federal government that serves the interests of ALL of its people, not just the rich and powerful.

Unfortunately, these days the richest and most powerful people are those who are supposed to represent us, with their closest financial friends backing them up.

So, when Virginia’s Republican James. M. LeMunyon wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal, I had to agree:

The U.S. Congress is in a state of serious disrepair and cannot fix itself. It has reached this point over the course of many years — in fact over decades. Regardless of the party in power, Congress has demonstrated a growing inability to effectively address the major issues of our time, including soaring federal debt and the extension of federal authority to states and localities.”

(I had to agree on the statement, but I probably wouldn’t agree on his interest in extending “federal authority to states and localities.)

LeMunyon calls for a Constitutional Convention, more specifically, an “Article V Constitutional Convention,” which is a process for delineating and submitting to Congress requests for changes to the Constitution that a majority of citizens support.

As a matter of fact, there is already, online, a petition to hold an Article V Convention, which

…is simply a deliberative assembly of state delegates discussing what might garner the approval from an overwhelming amount of citizens from across the political spectrum.

As one might expect, there is a lot of discussion going on about the value of having an Article V Convention.

Of course, I support such a move, especially because the technology enabled by the Internet can be used to draw out the actual desires of individual citizens. We, the people, telling our government what we need from it.

And one of the major things we need is the reform expressed in what I got as a forwarded email with no attribution. But it makes a good case, so I reprint it here:

Subject: Let’s NOT be sheep!

Take a minute and read this please

No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay. While politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full pay retirement after serving one term. It just does not make any sense.

Monday on Fox news they learned that the staffers of Congress family members are exempt from having to pay back student loans. This will get national attention if other news networks will broadcast it. When you add this to the below, just where will all of it stop?

Governors of 35 states have filed suit against the Federal Government for imposing unlawful burdens upon them. It only takes 38 (of the 50) States to convene a Constitutional Convention.

This will take less than thirty seconds to read. If you agree, please pass it on.

This is an idea that we should address.

For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that members of Congress could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform… in all of its forms. Somehow, that doesn’t seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law. I truly don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop.

If each person that receives this will forward it on to 20 people, in three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States .”

Please pass this on!

his dream coming true

He tells the story, here, of how his dream began at age 5:

……when everyone else was answering “policeman” or “fireman” or “doctor” to the question of what they wanted to be when they grew up, my first real answer was that I wanted to be an “outer space moving van driver”, helping (and this part was very specific) families to move into orbiting space stations…..

Well, as he goes on to explain,

Needless to say, I never did become an outer space moving van driver. Nor did I end up in space science in any fashion whatsoever. Or, indeed, in any field of science at all. (For that matter, I don’t even drive.)

But the exploration of space, whether by human or machine, has since that early memory of film fiction [2001: A Space Odyssey] been a consistent source of inspiration, and the realities of that exploration over the decades since have made me both cheer and weep over what’s possible when men and women strive for something (is there any other word for it?) awesome.

Now my son has a chance to witness, in person, the launch of the shuttle Endeavor on April 19 as one of 150 people selected from all over the world and hosted by NASA, as explained in the following

NASA will host a two-day Tweetup for 150 of its Twitter followers on April 18-19 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Space shuttle Endeavour is targeted to launch at 7:48 p.m. EDT on April 19, on its STS-134 mission to the International Space Station.

The Tweetup will provide @NASA followers with the opportunity to tour the center, view the shuttle launch and speak with NASA managers, astronauts, shuttle technicians and engineers. The event also will provide participants the opportunity to meet fellow tweeps and NASA’s social media team.

He’s been invited. And, yes, he’s excited.

Now he has to find the money for air fare and housing. While he’s in the middle of discussions with his fellow invitees regarding how to share expenses, he will still have costs that, unemployed as he is at the moment, he can’t afford to pay for.

But he is an active citizen of the Net, and, as such, he’s put himself out there to ask for help from those who know him and can’t wait to see what he reports and photographs as he lives out his dream.

He says:

Please consider donating to my trip fund for this experience. Anything raised in excess of funds required to cover trip expenses will be donated to Mercy Corps for Japan earthquake relief and recovery.

Yes, I’m donating, as is his sister, and, hopefully other family members and friends.

b!X needs a break. A job would be great too, but in the meanwhile, a chance to be at Cape Canaveral on April 18 and 19 is the closest he’s ever going to get to having his childhood dream come true. And, on top of that, as he tweeted:

This trip will happen three years almost to the day since my Dad died. He would have thought this was the most awesome thing ever.

And a note to my friends and family:

I’m sure that you will never have a chance to give him a wedding gift, so how about donating a few bucks to this adventure, which will no doubt be the highlight of his life.

To donate online, go to

why I haven’t been blogging

Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

While I believe that the above quote is true, that’s not the reason I haven’t been blogging here.

The main reason is that I’ve been setting up a blog for my 50th college reunion as a way of generating some nostalgic interest among my former classmates — in hopes of getting them to attend. The reunion isn’t until the Fall, and the site won’t go live until May, but I’ve been brushing up on html codes so that I can add a little pizzazz to the look of the site. I don’t have a great design eye, but, using a simple WordPress template as the basis, I’ve been able to figure out how to insert lines to break sections and how to format a table within a page, and how to do some other tweaking that I wanted to do. I actually like doing this stuff, and hours can go by before I notice that my butt’s numb from sitting so long.

The other reason is that I’m figuring how to knit a sweater on a bias. I have a pattern, but I’ve had to change the stitch count because I’m using a different yarn. I’m sure getting my math-phobic brain some exercise.

Then, of course, there’s my FaceBook games of Scrabble, Lexulous, and Wordscraper, which I also do for brain exercise. And lately I’ve been doing an online picture puzzles as well.

I’m reading mystery novels and listening to an unabridged audio version of The Help, recommended by a friend and downloaded from my library. The narrative is totally engrossing, pulling me into the lives of everyday people whose lives were affected by the Civil Rights turmoil of the early 60s.

I just finished reading (for a book club I hope to join later this month) Home Repair, which has a story line very close to my own life’s narrative.

It is definitely great to be retired so that I can have this fun playing.

I did notice, however, that the taxes on my Social Security went up. Now, that doesn’t make for much fun.

I have to remind myself that it could always be worse.

learning vs achievement
and the happiness factor

1. The act of accomplishing or finishing.
2. Something accomplished successfully, especially by means of exertion, skill, practice, or perseverance

1. The act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge or skill.
2. Knowledge or skill gained through schooling or study.

Learning and achievement are not at all the same thing, although one can lead to the other. In focusing on the goal of achievement and not the process of learning, education reformers are putting the cart before the horse. You can’t have high achievement without engaged learning. Yet, I see little attention being paid to changing and improving the way that learning (and, therefore, teaching) is put into process in schools.

A focus on the goals of competition and achievement, while great for trying to encourage success and ensure statistical accountability, is stressful and not very enjoyable for the learners themselves, as the people of China are discovering.

One obstacle to happiness in China, Peng said, is the intense culture of competition: “When you have that many people all fighting to achieve the same narrowly defined goals, it becomes a zero-sum game,” he said. “That’s why we need to change the paradigm of what success means and come together for the greater good of Chinese society,” Peng added. “That’s why we need to talk about the science of happiness.”

People seem to be happiest when they are involved in the process doing something that they enjoy doing.


a : a state of well-being and contentment : joy b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Most Americans interested in educational reform, including President Obama in his State of the Union address (who looks to China as an example of successful education), focus on raising achievement levels — not a bad ultimate goal. But what no one is grappling with is how to make the process of learning (which is the process one needs to go through before one can demonstrate a high level of achievement) something that students will enjoy (and, therefore, happily and willingly engage in).

If there were a way to replicate, in a classroom, how my homeschooled grandson is learning, more kids would find themselves happy to be engaged in learning, in discovering, in experimenting, in questioning, in hypothesizing — in learning how to enjoy the process of learning and how to apply that learning in meaningful ways.

He is eight-and-a-half years old, and he is not expected to sit doing a task for more than 15 minutes at a time. He rarely does worksheets and learns math and science through a variety of games and projects that involve both. (The internet is overflowing with resources.)

As an example of making learning enjoyable, I quote here from his mom’s recent blogpost about their latest learning adventure. You can read the whole post, with photos, here.

We’ve begun the Age of Exploration! Daring adventures, wrong directions, pirates, new lands! Originally I intended to launch more in depth into the Middle Ages this year. But as we completed the Revolutionary War and pulled out the books/stories/maps for the Middle Ages, it felt — wrong. Our Revolutionary War unit had so much to do and make, and suddenly, what I had next began with reading — not that we didn’t have that before as well, but all of a sudden, the work was different. It felt like — work. So I returned to what I did at the beginning of our year. I looked to the student and dared to ask, “Is this interesting to you? Do you WANT to learn about the middle ages right now?” His tepid reaction pretty much said it all. So I jumped online to look at something that had caught my eye before. The Time Travelers History Studies. The New World Explorers activity pack. Chock full of coloring, cutting, cooking, science, creating — making journals, mapping, lapbooking all while learning about explorers, myths and legends, early navigation, and more.


As a home/school, our home is one big classroom, with world maps hung up in the living room (along with the usual kinds of wall decor). A separate small room holds floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with resource books, science experiments, a variety of learning tools — and, of course a desk. The family computer is in an alcove off the dining room, and he goes there to access Kizui as well as spelling and math learning programs. Every activity offers some kind of engaged and interdisciplinary learning — from a trip to the grocery store or a museum, to a walk in the woods. There’s also plenty of time for creative play as well as just plain running around outside.

It’s not as though no one concerned with education is trying to figure out how to revolutionize the learning process so that kids are happy to go to school. Unfortunately, though, it’s not the people who have the power to enable and make the changes. School administrators and teachers seem to be more concerned with everything about the educational system BUT exploring ways to make learning a more happy and engaging process for students.

But,over at Mind/Shift: How we all learn, for example, there’s a recent piece: Learning Happens Everywhere in the Future School Day that pretty much explains how

Students will be able to choose to engage in their learning through physical interactions with each other and their guides (teachers) while the VL [Virtual Learning] system is always available to experience learning in ways not possible, not affordable, or that are unsafe in the physical world.

The article ends with this (emphases mine):

Over the past decade (since 2010) there has been much debate about online learning and whether physical schools will exist in the future. Most thought leaders have concluded that physical school remains vital to a successful education but their design and layout has changed significantly to support a grade-less organization with experts – teachers as guides, coaches, and mentors – along with their students. As well, the best of home- and un-schooling are fully incorporated. The school campus is a support system and home base for learners and their guides (teachers, parents, community members). But, students are not required to physically be in school on a rigid schedule. They learn at home, on family vacation, and at their physical school. Virtual Learning is seamlessly available to connect students to each other, to their learning guides, to experiential learning, to content, and to other mentors and learners around the world.

“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man”. Thus goes the Jesuit saying, but of course it is true of all education. What we sow in childhood, we reap in adulthood.

If we want adults who can think, analyze, deduce — who can imagine, create, implement — who seek the truth and use it well — then we need schools, pre-K through high school, that give students of all ages chances to practice learning-as-fun.

How we ensure that all of these students are given access to the actual historical and scientific facts from which they can build their learning experiences has become another worrisome major challenge.

I am a New York State certified teacher, but, these days, I sure am glad that my grandson is being homeschooled.