Your Typical Middle School Concert

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A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure to hear my local elementary/middle school band play. Two back-to-back concerts were performed: the beginner band and the intermediate band. It was a fine show.

The beginner band performed first. They did a good job, typical of a beginner band, with clarinet squeaks and off-beat percussion and blaring brass overshadowing the flutes, followed by the older and more experienced musicians who, as expected, had honed their craft a bit more. It was not a concert to be attended by the critics, or by anyone who is looking to get their ears massaged. It was like so many similar performances that happen every year all across the United States. The place was packed with proud (and tired and spaced out and other varieties of) parents, and a passel of school kids did their best and had fun.

I was struck by the timelessness and the typicallness of it. We were assembled in the gymnasium, seated in folding chairs in rows. Students played on risers as well as on the stage at the side of the room. They played under the basketball hoops. There was a state flag and a national flag on the wall. Four students started us off with the national anthem. Gym mats were folded in the corner. How many people have witnessed this same scene?

This was exactly what I did in elementary and middle school. Lots of kids played instruments and we managed to honk out some tunes as a band. Some or these young musicians will stick with it, but most will leave their instruments behind and some day say that they once played the saxophone or the bass drum, just like in my generation. I imagine many of those parents and grandparents attending this time were in that boat. This pageant has been repeated many times in many places. It is a shared experience.

What if we could tap into that shared experience? If we all could know how many others have felt pride at hitting the right notes, or embarrassment at missing them, wouldn’t we be in a better place? I certainly felt pride in my own child for performing, and I am confident I was not alone. Math may not be taught the same way as when these students’ parents went to school, and Chromebooks were not available to the previous generation. Schools and public education have changed in many ways, but band is similar. The clarinets and french horns and cymbals sound the same and work the same way. I think there is something to be celebrated in that.

Music (and other art) programs get cut at many schools. They are not valued as much as things that are typically measured on standardized tests. I think that is a mistake. There is much to be learned by playing music. If you have had any experience playing music, even as an elementary school band member, you know what I mean. And the continuity of it is powerful as well. There are few things that really are the same about school from the last generations to this one. I think we should hang on to some of them.

“Snow Day”

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The forecast called for snow. And rain and sleet and freezing rain. It looked ugly. Predictions foretold a tricky morning commute. Weather would be worst just when buses would be transporting children to school. It was a set up for a snow day. So said the forecast. I would believe it when it happened.

We have had so little snow this year (and last year) that I am skeptical of any forecast for wintry weather. But sure enough, my wife woke me up this morning to tell me that schools all across the state were closed. Then the phone rang–recorded message that our school was closed. I was scheduled to be at two different schools today–one in the morning and one in the afternoon–and they were both closed as well. Snow day.

But it wasn’t really a snow day. It rained hard last night and was raining hard when I fell asleep. It turned to snow at some point and there was some sleet mixed in at some point. It was snowing when I woke, then rained again to freeze on every exposed surface. It was icy and sloppy, and treacherous driving was a given. It made sense to cancel school.

I did do some work from home today. I always have something I can do, although I have to reschedule two school visits now. That’s always a hassle. But still. Snow day! Even though it means a pain the backside for me, I always love a snow day. Today was a bonus family day. I went out to get some sandwiches in town, just for a fun lunch (and the driving was pretty slow), but otherwise we stayed home together. As my children get older those family days will get fewer, so it is worth taking advantage of them.

Tomorrow I will be back at it. I have some prep to do for the day yet. We won’t have two snow days in a row. But I feel a little more energized, a little more buoyant. A snow day is like a mini-vacation. I don’t want it to end, but I am better prepared to get things done tomorrow. Not a bad deal.

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Women’s March Montpelier

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Like thousands of other people across the country and across the globe, I attended a march today.  I have never seen more people in Vermont’s capital than I did today. The Burlington Free Press estimated 15,000 people attended the rally. Some estimates were as high as 20,000.

We left early to get there in time to find parking and to get to Montpelier High School, where the march was scheduled to start. Still a good way from the interstate exit we were in the slow lane to turn off. Traffic was backed up before noon. The march was scheduled to start at 1:00. Good thing we left early.

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We later learned that the Montpelier exits on Interstate 89, both northbound and southbound exit 8, were closed. Then exits 7 and 9 were closed in both directions. There were a lot of people trying to express themselves in the capital city today.

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And express themselves they did. There were many signs, some clever, some hardhitting, all honest. I have put a few of them here.

We walked from the high school to the capital lawn. There were poets, politicians, speakers and musicians on hand to offer some guidance and inspiration. It was difficult to hear it all but that didn’t matter to me. Most people didn’t seem to mind. The atmosphere was a mix of celebration and pissed-offedness and determination to not stand for all the negativity of our new president. People are not happy about this change and they wanted to do something, to at least show up and demonstrate how much they do not support discrimination and oppression and fear.

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The message, on signs and in conversation and from speakers, was about supporting women, for sure; but it was also about fairness and equality for all in general. There were plenty of people who are just angry about our nation electing such a hateful man to represent us all and to lead us. “Not my president” was a common theme.

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Pussy hats and other pink hats, and just pink in general, was prolific. I wore a pink hat myself, borrowed from my spouse. My daughter, plus her friend and her mother, were in my party. There were plenty of my friends and colleagues and neighbors there, although I saw few of them. There were just so many damn people.

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I was inspired today. I felt more hopeful. It was a hell of a better day than yesterday. I am baffled that every day can bring more head-slapping, eye-rolling, are-you-f-ing-kidding-me news. It wasn’t just that I was around so many similar-minded people, although that was helpful. I was proud to be a Vermonter. I was proud to be around people who believe that kindness matters. I was proud of my country.

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Let me clear here. I am not upset with anyone who believes that government has a different role than I believe. I am not against anyone because of their political party affiliation. I can disagree with others on how things might be changed, or our national priorities, or how to make things better, or even what the problems are to begin with. But I cannot support this president. He is a nasty man. He is a liar. He is dangerous. I am frightened for our nation. I am not upset because “I lost” and I am not going to “get over it.”

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I know that many other people stand with me now. Change is hard. Apparently we have some work ahead of us. I am not sure what I will be able to do, but I guess I will need to be doing something. For now I am just angry and confused. In terms of what I am feeling, this guy with the green sign nailed it:

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Read more details about the Women’s March in Montpelier here.

Winooski River Portrait 2

Yesterday I volunteered for the second time for the Mid-Winter Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. I stopped at several spots along the river, crisscrossing and paralleling as I went. Unlike last year, this year I did see one Bald Eagle, perched overlooking the mouth of the river. Like last year, I took photos as I went. Here is my January 2017 Winooski River Portrait:

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River’s edge, Waterbury, Vermont

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Winooski Street Bridge, Waterbury, Vermont

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Bolton/Duxbury Dam

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Duxbury, from Long Trail next to Winooski River

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View of Winooski River from Long Trail Bridge

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Pancake ice

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Common Merganser, seen from Jonesville Bridge

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From Warren and Ruth Beeken Rivershore Preserve

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Looking west from Volunteers Green in Richmond, Vermont

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Discarded television, Williston, Vermont

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View of Winooski River from Woodside Park, Colchester, Vermont

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Winooski, Vermont

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Ice at Ethan Allen Homestead, Burlington, Vermont

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Bald Eagle looking out over Winooski River and Lake Champlain

Still Ready for Snow

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Today it was cold. It was 9 degrees when I rose this morning. But the sky was clear. It was so cold because the sky was clear. I would have liked to see some snow.

The photo above was taken a couple of days ago. I wanted to capture how little snow we have. Then it rained. I could share a photo of the same spot, snowless, now, but that would sting too much.

Plenty of people complain about snow. I guess part of what makes a culture is complaining about some aspect of the weather. Those people are missing out. Snow is amazing.

Just the fact of snow is amazing. Snowflake Bentley had it right. He really looked at snowflakes. Have you done that? They are beautiful. They are all different. I know you know the cliche about no two snowflakes being alike, but have you checked them out? Seriously, they are all intricately unique. Mind blowing. For real.

But I’m not just talking about flakes. I am talking about that big storm that lasts for two days and dumps feet of snow. The kind of snow you have to wade through. The kind of snow you work up a sweat to shovel it out of the way. The kind of snow you can just fall back into. Heavenly, deep, lovely, cold, fluffy oodles of snow. I miss that.

We have not had a storm like that in years now. We had a couple of inches not too long ago, but I want a storm. We used to have this thing called the January Thaw. Maybe you have heard of it? That quaint idea that it would warm up, temperatures rising above freezing, for a few days in January, and then it would get back to proper winter temperatures? Now we get these January freezes, where it gets cold for a day or two and then gets back up above freezing. It was 50+ degrees the other day! Shameful.

I guess I need to get used to this. It isn’t going to get any colder. We might have a winter or two that gets cold again, sure, but I am afraid this is the new normal. So you get what I’m taking about, even if you don’t get what I’m taking about, here is one to remember from March, 1999; shoveling the driveway. That was some snow.

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Poor Thing

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Ah, the end of the holidays, Always a bit of a letdown. Always a bit sad. The lights come down. The decorations get boxed. The colorful paper gets recycled. And the tree gets tossed out onto the lawn.

Usually we cut our own tree. The tradition, several years old now, has been to cut a tree from a nearby tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have found a tree at more than one local tree farm and it has always been a memorable experience. A couple of years ago, for example, it was warm enough that my son wore shorts. To cut a Christmas tree. No one-horse open sleigh hauling the tree out of the woods for us. Memorable.

This year we went away right after Thanksgiving. To Florida of all places. Because we were spending several days in the Sunshine State we would be spending fewer days in front of the Christmas tree at home. My wife insisted that this meant we had fewer days to celebrate. So we got a tree before Thanksgiving. The tree farms were not ready for us that early, but they had them at the hardware store. We all hopped in the van and picked one out together. We did not need to bring a saw. The tree came from a local tree farm. We stuffed it into the back of the van and drove it home. Memorable.

Today the tree lies, still in its stand, on the frozen lawn. Now, typically it would find a home in the brush pile over in the strip of woods to the north of the house. And it will find a home there. Eventually. Needles were falling off it so readily, however, that my wife carried it as carefully as she could to the porch before giving it a heave. More needles fell off when it hit the frozen lawn. We have never had a tree shed needles like that. We filled a paper grocery bag with those needles. Dry summer I guess.

I know I should move the poor thing. There isn’t much dignity in bringing so much light and joy to a household and then lying naked in the cold, waiting for some decent soul to give you a purpose again, say, maybe, as a home for mice or chickadees. I will get to it. Honestly, I just don’t think of it. I go out to look at the moon and I think “I really need to haul that puppy off to the brush pile.” But it is cold and I need some gloves and then I go inside to drink tea and I forget about it again. Not very grateful, I know.

We have a long weekend coming up. Maybe I will get to it then. Unless I forget. Again. Maybe I just need to make a point to go out and look at the moon more often. That would do it. Win win as they say. Win win.

Not the Ideal Painting Day, but Whatever

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I sat looking out at the sunrise, waiting for it get light. Yesterday afternoon my daughter moved everything out of her room and we prepped it for painting. It was cold out, in the teens. But she really wanted to paint her room this weekend. She asked plenty of time ahead, and was willing to put in the effort. How could I say no?

She had a couple of friends over yesterday and we got to it–taping and cleaning and then painting. The problem is that it was really too cold to open the windows and air the place out. Thankfully, we had gotten low emission paint from the hardware store. This was intentional, due to the season, and it worked like a charm. It smelled a bit paint-ish but was not all that bad. We cracked a window and ran a fan and it cleared right out.

Her room was a mess last night, of course so she spent the night at one of those friend’s houses. All three of them did. The plan was to head back home and paint together in the morning. I, however, as an adult with some time management skills, as well as some experience with teenagers, knew that that was an unrealistic plan. There was no way they could get up in time to paint a second coat and put the whole room back together in time for bed tonight. So I painted the second coat myself before I picked them up.

I admit I like to get it done right. It is an excellent learning experience, however, to let your children take on a painting project. It is a good skill of itself and it is empowering. My daughter can now look at those walls and say “I painted that.” That feels pretty good. My dilemma is that I prefer, if possible, to avoid paint on the beams and the rug and the windows. The second coat was a little more thorough and tidy, but the first coat was more powerful, despite the messiness.

So I sipped coffee until the light rose. Then I put on old clothes and got the job done. I picked up the three girls late in the morning. They painted a dresser themselves, and then I helped them get started on reassembling the room–bed returned to the corner, clothes back in the closet and so on. They took care of the rest.

No, it wasn’t the best time of year to paint. We had to suck in some paint fumes (although not too many) and clean up with less room to work. They had to paint the dresser in the basement rather than on the porch or in the garage, but easy enough. And it is one more project not to be done in the summer. If my daughter had not insisted I would not have done it that way, but it got done, and I got to watch the sunrise, and she is happy. I guess that last one was the priority.