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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


CHOSEN

I was chosen by the Simsbury bank to have one of my photos in their Simsbury Calendar. I was one of 12, of course, out of at least a hundred submitted through the Simsbury Camera Club, of which I am a member.

YEAH!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Leaves of Leaves

I vacuumed my lawn yesterday.

I figured out how to attach my leaf catcher to my Honda 3810 lawn tractor and spent 5 hours Sunday picking up leaves. I am so pleased with myself. It took so very long I thought I would never ever get it done, but I did.

Well, done for now. There are still more leaves that have yet to fall to the ground. In fact a whole bunch...But the best thing is, I didn't have to rake them onto a tarp and then drag them into the woods.

It was a lot of work because I live on over an acre of land, but I tell you, it is a great feeling to be on top of this and have something mechanical assist me. I was intimidated about attaching the leaf catcher, but it really wasn't that difficult, once I borrowed a ratchet set from my nice neighbor, Jim, who has all the tools a person could ever want, and more.

I have to buy myself a ratchet set. The wrench that I used at first almost stripped the bolt. The correct tool is important.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I made the AP!

My Friday night editor picked up my story on Homosexual Activity in Suffield Bike Path. Oh yeah. Channel 3 news did a story about it and it was on the news last night. All thanks to me. Makes me feel pretty good. Even though it is pretty seedy.

This is the first day in a couple weeks that I don't have a story running in the paper. That is annoying. I went to the Board of Finance last night in Suffield and it was interesting, but nothing was really going on. Nothing really news worthy. I took copious notes.

The thing is, I really need to get myself a new used car. It is weighing on me big time.

Which reminds me, I had an incident the other day that is bugging me.

I was trying online dating again...a lot of guys responded but one was so rude and stupid, said what I had to say was "gay" and also that I am corny.

So of course I take it to heart - because, you know what? I am corny. I hate to admit it, but I can come across as corny, which is true. Corny and cliche. Not a style I want to continue to develop, by the way.

Where does that corny come from? My desire to get along with everyone? Could be. Good to know though.

On a completely different subject, it is good in a way to start loosing the old eye-sight it helps because I don't see the details of my skin starting to wrinkle. Fuzzy vision has it's perks.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Written Word

I went to a poetry reading last night at Real Art Ways which was pretty good. The first one, Martha Collins, who is a professor at Oberlin College was just not very good. Boring and artifical and controlling and phony.

She is a white women, older, and she wrote about lynchings of black people. The subject is truly horribly awful. And I felt just sensationalistic on her part, you know to have this petite white older women read about the horrors that people can inflict on other people and the results of the mob mentality.

Maybe I am misreading her (no pun intended). Perhaps she meant well. In fact, I am sure she did. She is sooo sincere and earnest, I can't imagine she has any recognition of how inauthentic she comes across.

She was so sweet that I feel badly bashing her work. But she torchured me.

She spent the first fifteen minutes of the reading - explaining what she was going to be reading. And then she read what she was going to read. Ugh. I almost left.

Her style of poetry is not my favorite either.

Leaving sentences unfinished and....
Say words, words and stopping
at odd places for....

That kind of stuff...I find that kind of style vapid and old fashioned - very beatnik "lawrence farlinghetti" type stuff. Fragmented - I hate fragmented poetry.

The other two were very good. Very performance oriented to have the words read from their hearts and minds. Both black. One, is CT poet laureate Marilyn Nelson (reminded me a bit of Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison) and the other I teaches in Brooklyn NY and was so funny - Colin Channer. He is an assistant professor of English and the coordinator of the B.A. creative writing program at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.

He read a story
How to Beat your Child good and proper,
from the perspective of a black Jamaican woman. I tell you he channelled this character - who is based on his mother. The stories about that woman and the way he tells them are so lovely, loving and amazing.

He was an inspiration. And very handsome, which never hurts either.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Paris on A Shoe-String

Traveling to Paris on the cheap is not impossible, even though the exchange rate is less than favorable for the dollar these days (one Euro costs around $1.21), but the trade-off is you have to be flexible. If chocolates on your pillow each night is what you desire then this type of vacation probably isn’t for you. But if you are open to adventure and take pleasure in the simpler joys of life then you can visit Paris, have a remarkable time, and not break the bank in the process.

I set my daily budget at 75 Euro (about $100.00) per day, including hotel. Somedays I spent a bit less, somedays more, but at the end of the week I was right on target.

Of course getting there is one of the most expensive aspects of traveling anywhere outside of the U.S. However finding the cheapest airfare is as far away as the Internet. Sites like www.cheapfares.com and www.mylowfare.com for examples allow you to find the best airline prices available. The cheapest I found was about $800.00. I noticed too that airfares change daily, so if they are high one day, keep checking. You can save a few hundred dollars and some fly-time too if you depart from JFK in New York or Logan airport in Boston.

As far as accommodations were concerned, once again it was the Internet to the rescue. I just entered “hostel – Paris” at www.google.com and found a slue of options - www.gomio.com or www.hiphophostels.com for examples. At first I tried to make reservations at one centrally located hostel, but they didn’t take reservations over the Internet, only by fax, which was neither convenient (since I don’t have a fax at home) nor cheap. I called Kinko’s and it would cost about $7.00 to send the fax. Additionally they only had a room for the first two nights, not the whole week. After a little more searching I found a hostel in the Montmarte section of Paris called Le Montclair (www.montclair-hostel.com), at the northern end of the city.

Traveling alone or not, hostels are reasonable and plentiful in Paris, and definitely the best way to economize accommodations. And really, how much time do you plan to spend in your room while on vacation anyway? They used to be called youth hostels, but I noticed at Le Montclair that there were all ages represented – some guests were in their fifties and sixties. The hostel wasn’t just for kids, nor was it all dorm rooms.

If you are considering traveling solo, then the dorm would be the best choice, at 25 Euro per night. However unlike the Marriott or Hilton, there were no elevators at Le Montclair, so with five stories to climb and descend, being “youthful” or at least somewhat in shape is helpful.

I viewed the stairs as a fabulous opportunity to get a daily “stair-master” workout without even trying. I have to admit that my first time up the modified spiral staircase I was a bit winded and slightly dizzy, and I did have to pause on at least one landing. But by the end of the week I was sprinting up and down the stairs like a pro. (However, I won’t kid you – with all the walking we did, not a day went by that I wasn’t popping Advil like breath mints.)

My friend and I shared a room with a shower and sink for 50 Euro a night, including “le petit dejeuner” (breakfast) consisting of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, orange juice and hard rolls.

For 4 additional Euro we could have had a toilet in the room, but instead opted for the shared bathroom in the hall, which worked fine. There were two available on each floor so there was never a wait.

My one complaint was that the mattress was a bit lumpy…it felt like I was lying on a box spring. But honestly I was so exhausted by the end of each day I never had a problem sleeping. We also had a few little sugar ants sharing the room with us, but they didn’t cause any problems.

The great thing about this hotel, as with most hostels, was that it had a kitchen and dining area in the basement with a small refrigerator and stovetop with pots and pans and utensils. You could make your dinner there if you chose, as we did several nights, and save oodles of Euro. A hearty dinner for two, including potato-leek soup, cheese, wine, baguette and fruit cost less than 13 Euro. It was cool to shop at the local markets just like a real Parisian. I also bought a geranium for 2.5 Euro at the beginning of the week and put it on our windowsill for ambience, and at the end of our stay gave it to the staff at the front desk.

The hotel had four computers and had Internet access in the lobby area, which cost 2 Euro for half an hour, so I was able to check my email from time to time.

Since we were only planning on being in Paris for one week we decided to limit our explorations to within the city limits. For transportation we each purchased a Metro Pass called “Carte Orange” which gave us unlimited use of the subway system for the week for 15 Euro (about $20.00). I found the Metro (www.paris.org/Metro/) to be convenient, fast, clean and economical.

We decided to do walking tours of different areas of the city during our stay based on a tour book (hence the need for the Advil). Walking tours are a great way to learn about the City, and of course save money.

One day we walked through an old cemetery chock full of gorgeous markers. It was like a little city. Turned out there was only one entrance and exit. I was beginning to think the only way out was to die there.

Another day we walked a route that led to the Basillica Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Church) on the top of a hill within the Montmarte section of Paris, near our hotel. And still another day we walked along the Champs-Elysees, and on the two small islands on the Seine River where the Notre-Dame Cathedral is located and where Paris started in 52 AD - the Ile de la Cite, and Ile Saint-Louis.

Of course we went to see the Eiffel Tower (www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/) and chose to go to the second level for 7 Euro each. The view from this level was excellent. We could have walked to the second floor for 3 Euro, but it was freezing cold and windy the day we were there, so the extra 4 Euro was worth it. We chose not to go to the top which cost 16 Euro because the line was long and it was too chilly. (The locals said it was unseasonably cool for late spring.) Hot chocolate was definitely needed for a couple Euro, but it was essential since my fingers were turning blue.

One lunch we had a picnic of bread, cheese wine and chocolate in the Tuilleries Park on the grounds around the Louvre - cheap but delicious, and what scenery! You can buy wine just about anywhere in Paris for less than 3 Euro (about $5.00) and that was perfectly delightful for us.

We didn’t go inside the Louvre (admission fee 13 Euro) primarily because we were running out of time and the place is just massive. However I did check out another small gem of a museum nearby called Musee de L’Orangerie www.musee-orangerie.fr/documents/anglais.pdf (so named because it used to house orange trees) for 6.50 Euro. It recently reopened after years of renovations. Inside were Picassos, Matisses, and Renoirs, C├ęzannes and other impressionists, as well as two oval-shaped rooms that showcased the Nymphs – Monet’s water lilies. Best of all taking photographs and video in the museum was allowed.

Another day we went to the French Tennis Open at Roland Garros (www.rolandgarros.com) which was on the Metro line. We were there during the early qualifying rounds and so were able to get in for only 16 Euro each…much less than the cost later in the tournament, but still enjoyable to see the grounds and watch the lesser known tennis players up close.

A couple of suggestions before you travel. The electricity in Europe runs at a different frequency than in the states, so if you plan on taking along any appliances make sure to buy an adapter before you leave. It only costs a couple of dollars and any Radio Shack should have one. I bought mine a couple weeks in advance at http://staples.com to use to recharge my digital camera batteries and it worked great.

Of course you will want to make sure you have a current passport, though visas are not required, nor are any vaccinations needed. If you don’t have a passport give yourself a couple of months before you travel to get one, or else you will have to pay extra to have it expedited. I was able to get my passport processed through the local post office. You can heck out www.iafdb.travel.state.gov for the location nearest to you.

The day before my trip I went to AAA ((www.AAA.com) and bought $200 worth of Euro, which was helpful when I arrived to pay for the train from the airport (8 Euro) and the Metro. If you don’t belong to AAA, then any national bank will exchange US currency for the Euro. Once in Paris using my ATM card was convenient and simple, and Master Card and Visa also were accepted at the hotel and at most restaurants. It was my experience that they charge the meal on the card, but expect the tip in Euro. For information on the latest exchange rates, check out www.x-rates.com/d/USD/table.html.

Bistros, pastry shops, cheese shops and little bookstores were ubiquitous in Paris. And much to my satisfaction and relief franchises such as McDonalds and Starbucks were few and far between. I only saw one of each while in France.

The souvenirs at the tourist spots were expensive and chintzy, but if you go to the neighborhood “Euro” store (like our “Dollar” store) you can find some unique, fun and reasonably priced gifts. Post cards averaged about 1.5 Euro each, and postcard stamps cost 0.55 Euro.

I found that the French dressed impeccably, with a grace and style that was distinctive. I was surprised to observe that the dogs in France for the most part walked along side their owners without leashes, something I never see in the states.

The French people were at times kind and helpful and at other times impatient and annoyed with me, but I found it all interesting and amusing. Most people speak varying degrees of English, and many speak it quite well, so if you don’t know French it is not an issue generally in Paris. In fact I wanted to practice my rudimentary French to the consternation of some who just wanted to tell me the answer to my question in English, but I was determined to learn, regardless of how ridiculous I sounded. And sure enough by the end of the week my French had improved.

When I first arrived in the city I had couldn’t find the hotel. I walked for quite a while with a heavy backpack, suitcase and in high heels (what was I thinking?). Finally I asked a taxi driver for directions, assuming that he might speak English and know where my hotel was. After trying for a few frustrating minutes to communicate directions, he smiled and said, “I take you - free,” and did. Now, I ask you, would that ever happen in New York?

Monday, April 24, 2006



So, I want to talk about the writers conference this weekend in general, but the blog session in particular.

The blog guru was Sreenath Sreenivasan, Dean of Students at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism - an enthusiastic, intense, knowledgeable associate professor who has embraced the world blog and runs fast and jumps high in the ether-world of blogland...

(the picture is posted here as an experiment...I am learning how to copy it onto the template page.)

According to Sree, blogs are a kind of condensed website. To me blogging is an amalgamation of an email and a website...kind of the best of both worlds, or the worst of both...however you want to view the fact that you can spend an exorbitant amount of time sitting motionless infront of a computer screen, with only fingers flailing away.

Enough commentary...down to the brass tacks of the session. I figured I might as well create a blog and then I could practice what I learned.

Sree gave us a brief demo on how easy it is to set one up, and this one, by google, can be created from www.blogger.com - it is free, cause google gets money from the residual advertising. But there are also others out there that are free, such as
www.LiveJournal.com
www.MSN Spaces.com and
www.Blogsome.com

[NOTE: I created the links you see on this posting with a link icon that is located to the left of the alignment icon. It is easy if you have any knowledge at all of the standard icons. If any of my links dont work, you can always google them) For example, you can make things bold, center them, change fonts, do spell check (although I tried and was unsucessful in that effort) and do bullets and dots and change the color.]

One very popular blog is www.Romenesko.com which has a lot of condensed news on it. Sree says this is a must-visit site.

Political pundits on either side of the fence have their own sites where they rant and rave to their hearts' content. (Personally, I used to be a news and gossip junkie, but then I decided to get more interested in my own life and gave that up. I have my views, but honestly I am not interested in changing the world at the moment.)

Another site you may have heard of is "bloggish," meaning that it is a website really but has blog characteristics - www.drudgereport.com

All blogs have a reverse chronological flow, meaning that the latest posting is the most recent, so that is how you get sucked in, because you have to be a frequent blogger to keep up with the discussions.

Definitions in blogspeak -
Bloggosphere - everything in the blog universe.
MSM - main-stream media - Sree prefers to call them "traditional."
Blog - "web log"
Mob Blog - a group of writers writing together on the same blog.
When you host a blog, you are the only one that can post headings - unless you participate in a mob blog - but the comments on postings, ah, that is where the interaction is.

The key to having a good blog according to Sree is having a lot of links.

There are about 20 million blogs out there and growing fast, but most will be like mine...viewed by only a few select friends.

Some of the more interesting blogs mentioned were the following:
Boing Boing which has wonderful things in it says Sree.
Newshounds.us where their logo is "We watch FOX, so you don't have to."
ALDaily.com which is an Arts and Letters Daily.
there is a joke blog that is very very funny, called the dullest blog in the world.com
Another tidbit of interest is mediabistro daily news feed.com - which he says is a daily roundup.

Sree said that if you are writing a book a blog is a good thing to have, because you can put parts of your story and open it up to feed-back and maybe develop a fan-base for your work. He said not to put your best stuff out there though.

The idea is to write short little missives and then let it go...of course my discourse here is going on and on, but that is because I am writing my notes of the session.

There is often a tip jar icon where you can put a dollar or two in - whatever you like, to support the blog. Sree encouraged people to give a little to support the grassroots effort of blogging. That being said, some people, like Matt Drudge, actually make a very comfortable living at this...but then some people completely dig the concept of being in front of a PC day and night...not my cup of tea.

So, again, write small, which takes discipline. Some well-known "MSM" or traditional journalists have really embraced the communication avenue - such as Carl Zimmer and Walter Kern. Carl says that blogging has improved his writing.

So, I hope this was helpful...kind of a hodge-podge of information from the lecture.

Oh, another thing that distinguishes blogs is that it posts the date and time of the posting after each post.

So this was fun. Hope you learned something too. I know I did by just re-writing my notes. Now back to my article on cream puffs!
The dictionary defines paradigm as "A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline."

It is a given in our society. And the crazy thing is that as our world is structured - the "given," is really appalling. What I find particularly upsetting is those who rail against the status quo of the political climate as an excuse to vent their pent-up anger at themselves for leading non-authentic lives.

I understand the seductive power of that desire, considering I have been swimming in it most of my life...probably since about the time that I actually did learn to swim for reals.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Confessions of a cleaning product addict

by Kory Loucks

It's not all my fault -- I blame it on television. Its ads for Mr. Clean or Swiffer, or Bounty -- the quicker picker-upper they all make cleaning look so easy -- and fun.
And so very, very fast -- only 30 seconds at the most -- sometimes just 15 seconds, and zap -- done.
And do you notice how everyone is having such a good time? I never have that much fun doing anything, never mind cleaning, so what is wrong with me? The only logical answer is that it must be having those actual products that make it so much fun. But it is the speed that gets me every time.
OK, so the first step to changing a problem is recognizing you have one. The day of reckoning came for me a few weeks ago I came home with some Mop 'n' Glo. Actually, it was a store-brand version of Mop 'n' Glo. I guess I had the idea of cleaning, which I felt really good about, but also was thinking about saving money at the same time, which was very responsible of me -- a win-win situation, you might say. However, when I went to put away the generic cleanser under the sink, of course not using it yet, just putting it away, I noticed I already had a full, unused, and unopened container of Mop 'n' Glo -- the real stuff.
That was when I realized that I am a cleaning product addict. It hit me with all the force of unexpected cell phone overage charges, that in fact I buy cleaning products, lots and lots of cleaning products, but rarely use them.
I have accumulated so many different types and kinds of cleaning products under my sink that I recently had to relocate some to them to the bathroom. I like to think of the ones that I moved as my Top Five cleaning products. My logic is that if I am to use any of cleaning products, any one of the Top Five would definitely be my first choice -- kind of like my own private Olympic team of cleaning products.
I have come a long way since my college days, but then I can't honestly say it was a linear progression more of a lateral movement. I remember realizing, much to my horror then, and chagrin now, that not only did I have to clean the bathroom and other areas of my immediate world, but also I had to actually pay money out of my own pocket to buy the products that I cleaned with. Money that could be oh so much better invested in shopping at Marshall's for that reasonably priced but truly adorable pink sweater. I mean, when you are faced with a choice between ammonia or angora, which would you choose?
Well, it just seemed at the time a bit like adding insult to injury. I really thought that someone somewhere should be paying me to use these nasty things that smelled awful and were ruining my nails. Perhaps if I could have been paid by the people who made these products to actually use them, it would have provided me the motivation I was seeking -- you know, somebody like Mr. Johnson and his brother, Mr. Johnson, and perhaps his son too, who I think is still involved.
That could have possibly inspired me to clean. But, honestly, I think I was just entertaining that concept as a personal if only hypothetical protest. To be perfectly truthful, you couldn't have paid me to clean. I am not proud of this fact, but I figure it is best to admit my issues so that others after me will have the benefit of my experience and not have to go through the shame and humiliation I have. It's what I do for the young people. It's who I am.
But as I said, I grew up -- laterally speaking. And part of growing up is doing what you don't want to do. So, buy cleaning products I did -- I didn't want to, but I did. And I bought and bought and bought and bought. And one of the benefits you get from buying the products but rarely using the products is that the products last a very long time. A surprisingly long time. The secret here is, of course, that they never go bad. Ever. Buy a banana and see how long that will last. But that can of Endust? It is as good as the day I bought it, 11 years ago, along with that can of Pledge, which is just as equally unused, and is, in fact, gathering dust.
It was all too much. I decided to peek under my sister's kitchen sink out of curiosity, and to reassure myself and also confirm that it wasn't just me. Much to my horror and dismay, I discovered that it is just me. At least in my immediate family. She had some dishwashing detergent and a few sundry Brillo pads. That was it. I couldn't believe it. Every available square inch of space under my sink is used by products sitting there like battle-ready soldiers waiting.
And so, they wait. And wait. And wait. I don't know what I expect them to do actually. It finally dawned on this college-educated mind of mine that they are certainly not going to be self-motivated. Rather than just dreaming that my whole house was clean, I would have to take some action.
So recently I started using one of my two bottles of 409 (why have one when two will do?) on countertops and other surfaces on a regular basis, by which I mean practically daily. I have set up an ad hoc schedule -- once a week now I clean the bathroom rather than waiting for a dinner party (which is really just external motivation to clean or risk being a social outcast).
It is all so embarrassing. Can I be the only one who has a collection of cleaning products? Actually, I have been thinking of starting a second career. I've crunched the numbers and I have enough cleaning products so that, if I started my own cleaning business, I would be set for a year, easy.
Can you give cleaning products as gifts, or does that send the wrong message? You see my sister's birthday is coming up...