Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

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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.

First Day of Summer Vacation

School bus ready to make the last drop-off of the year

School bus ready to make the last drop-off of the year

Last Friday was the last day of school around here. That means summer, for those young enough to attend school, began today. It was a stunner of a day–warm but not hot, sunny but not too sunny. My son went off to a baseball “school” (don’t tell him that they call it that) for the morning and I spent time with my daughter while my wife went to work. I read a book to her (Lost Children of the Far Islands by Emily Raabe–really fun to read together) for a while, ate a good breakfast and had some coffee. I had already gone birding early this morning. The day started well.

And you know what? It was a great day, straight up. I read a little, ran some errands, took the kids for ice cream. My trip to the hardware store wasn’t much of a success but there is tomorrow to try again. I had a huge salad for lunch, thanks to all the goods from our farm share. How can you beat a fresh salad in the summer? Can’t.

I will get a repeat of the day tomorrow, with a few more things to take care of. These are the kinds of days I like. I have a chunk of work I need to get done at some point in the next two days, but I will get it done. I hope. I’d rather just hang out on the hammock. I will do that at some point, but the hammock will have to wait for now.

I mean, just look at how beautiful a day this is. Damn.

I mean, just look at how beautiful a day this is. Damn.

And Now a Few Words from Dr. Dean

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Look, it’s the former governor as seen through a smart phone camera from the back row

OK this is just not a great photo, but I wasn’t prepared to take photos. There I was visiting Milton High School today to help out some students and I hear on the morning announcements that juniors and seniors should come to the auditorium for the visiting politician, who blah blah blah really important whatever I can’t really hear I have things to do Vermont big wig such and such and his name is Howard Dean. Howard Dean? Right here today? I started listening but had already missed the details.

After I met with one student he asked if I was going to see Howard Dean. I had a hole in my schedule so I followed him into the auditorium. We were a little late. I sat in the back. He spoke for a while and answered some questions. He talked about how their generation has a different world to take care of and different tools to use to do that. Some key ideas, paraphrased:

When he was young, he and his peers could organize a protest but it took lots of coordination and months to organize. Today anyone can go to change.org and set up a petition to make big companies or Congress take notice, with hundreds of signatures in a couple of days. He told the story of the young woman who got five dollars tacked to her bank statement each month to allow her to use her debit card. She organized a petition and, very quickly, got 300,000 people to say they would switch banks unless the fee was dropped. The fee was dropped.

He asked the group how many of them had at least one international connection, including through social media. The majority of hands went up. He said that when he was in high school there was no social media so only about three hands might have gone up; ok maybe four since “we had some exchange students.”

He was asked a question about the cost of college and noted that college is expensive but there are ways to do it cheaper. He noted the expansion of students at community colleges and that one can transfer into a larger school to get a degree from a different institution. He said that anyone can get a good education at just about any not-for-profit institution if one works hard enough.

He was asked about the number of students who go to college outside Vermont and said “I think that is a great thing.” If you grow up in Vermont and go to college in Vermont and stay in Vermont to work, how are you going to get any experience with the world outside Vermont? Half of what you learn in college is from professors. The other half is from students who go to school with you. So go somewhere to college where you can be around people who are different from you. He likes the idea of students from other places coming to Vermont to go to college. It means that Vermonters who stay here get to be around different types of people and that will make their education better.

If you think you are going to work your way up through the system and become president and then change the world, that isn’t going to happen. To become president you have to work your way through the system you need to change. Change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Today there are more tools to organize people to make change than ever before in history, and more people are doing it despite a dysfunctional political system.

The Iraq war was “the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States.” Patrick Leahy is “my favorite senator.”

He said some other things, as well, of course–things that got me thinking. I especially got thinking about the idea that 50% of what one learns in college is from peers. Somehow that phrasing set right with me. His thoughts on the college experience were directly relevant to the conversation I was having with the student I had been meeting with. I asked the student about that later. He said it was weird that the college topics came up and then said this:

“It made me think differently about how awesome Vermont is.” Yes, Dr. Dean, your words still are inspiring, ten years after you changed the face of political organizing and fundraising, both for me and for the students you met with today. Keep that up.

 

Not Spring Now

Snow coming down hard

Snow coming down hard

It started snowing early in the day. School was cancelled. Then the snow let up. I went to work. Luckily I only was in town half the day. The drive home was slick and slow. Then it really started to snow. By late in the day it was coming down and the wind picked up. And the temperature dropped. We had ourselves a snowstorm.

I went for a ski around the field. It was fine when I had my back to the wind but heading into the wind–ouch! Those little crystals of ice are painful when they slam into one’s face. My hood was a handy tool. By my second lap my ski tracks were almost filled in.

Skiing in the blowing snow

Skiing in the blowing snow

This morning the snow was still falling. Drifts piled against the house. I could only see out half the bedroom window. No school today. I will get some work done from home. First, however, I plan to rekindle the fire in the stove and to brew some coffee. And to appreciate being warm inside.

Cold Weather and Hot Cocoa

Time for Sunbathing?

The warmest temperature I saw today was 1 degree. That ain’t summer. Last night the temperature dropped below zero; at its lowest point, just before sunrise, it was -16. Like I said, that ain’t summer. Winter–full on. It was the kind of day where those thin pants are like wearing no pants, the kind of day when your breath freezes in the air. I left the house this morning, driving on the squeaking snow, and all was well. As my car warmed, the moisture inside the car unfroze, evaporated, clung to the windows, and then froze again. I couldn’t see doodly squat. I had to wait for it to thaw inside the vehicle. Cold.

I was chilly enough this evening that I craved something warm. I craved dessert, I admit, but I thought I might combine the two. So I whipped up some hot cocoa. And I’m not talking that instant add hot water junk. I’m talking genuine rich and creamy chocolate deliciousness. Here is the recipe for two servings (or one, if you use a mug as large as mine):

Hot Cocoa

Mix 2 Tablespoons cocoa and 2 Tablespoons sugar with a dash of salt.

Add 2/3 cup water and stir well.

Heat over medium heat, whisking, until mixture boils, then stir for 2 minutes.

Add 2/3 cup cream or half and half and 2/3 cup skim milk.

Heat until hot but do not boil.

Drink up, baby.

Below zero tonight and then we are back to normal winter temperatures tomorrow. Earlier in the week we were aiming to get a storm, but that will miss us. I suppose we can’t have all the extremes at once. That would be a blizzard and schools might be closed. Although, schools were closed today. Busses wouldn’t start. I wonder who got reprimanded for forgetting to plug in the engines. Or maybe it really was just too damn cold for real.

First Day of School

Our children hopped on the bus today. September one–first day of school. I have to admit I am happy school starts in September. Starting in August is hard to take. I can think of September as fall, but August is still summer, no arguing, even if the temperature is supposed to top 90 today. I am off to work, hoping to get it all done before the bus returns this afternoon. Another school year underway, with the good and the bad that comes with that. My kids were excited and nervous at the same time, as I imagine I was back in the school days. A colleague of mine, when I saw her for the first time since June this week, said to me, “Happy New Year!” I thought that was apt. So here is to a good new year. Cheers!

Bus on the Way

And Off They Go...