News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

We found the sun

I heard on the radio this morning that since May 1, we have had only three full days of sunshine as if you haven’t noticed. Notwithstanding damp basements and ruined vegetable gardens, one positive aspect of all this rain is that when the sun finally returns, it will be well appreciated—a joyful event. I know, because we recently returned from five full days of sun and hot weather (high 80s) in North Carolina, and it was well worth the expense of the plane ride. Our joy was also enhanced by the fact that we spent the entire time visiting with family and doing fun-in-the-sun stuff such as swimming, jet skiing, tubing, and kneeboarding (similar to wakeboarding only on your knees) on a huge lake about an hour from Charlotte. As true New Englanders, in addition to being sturdy enough to deal with all kinds of finicky weather, we know enough to appreciate the gift of a warm summer breeze and blinding sunshine when it happens. Here’s a few takebacks from our North Carolina trip: When people call me ma’am I feel old, the lakes are black-water dark because of muddy bottoms, poisonous snakes swim in those lakes, and according to my kids “people are so nice hereespecially our cousins.” And while it’s no secret that sun deprivation can cause depression, now that I’m back and feeling sunny, I’m counting on finally having those rays closer to home…

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Sharing Michael Jackson’s blues

Being of a certain age, I grew up with Michael Jackson. I remember dancing with my cousin to the Jackson 5 for hours (ABC, it’s easy as 1,2,3) while choreographing our own elaborate steps and twirls. Michael, in particular, caught my imagination from the start.  I watched with the world as his music evolved and his sense of self morphed into something alien that made me sad. Days after his death, I’m still trying to make sense of what his music and persona meant to me. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Wesley Morris wrote an article about Jackson that resonates, not only because it acknowledges his great musical talent and explains the allure he held for folks of all colors and nationalities, but because it attempts to understand why Michael Jackson was not good enough for himself—just the way he was created—with dark skin, round nose and nappy hair. Morris attempts to explain the struggle some African Americans have being okay with their blackness, and as a white female, I admit it’s not something I’ve experienced personally. But I do know about gender struggles—such as being okay with throwing like a girl, being emotional, or physically weaker than many men. I have experienced my own version of trying to accept myself as good enough as a woman in a post-feminist world that expects super-career-moms who handle jobs, childcare, community service, and managing the home without breaking a sweat. The unrealistic expectations are difficult enough; the fact that they thrive within an historical and cultural context that exalts manhood makes it worse. So yes, Morris hits a chord with me on many levels when he writes: “They – we – could see well past the bleached skin and unnatural Caucasian features. We could see his blues.” Finally, I understand better my empathy for Michael’s madness. On a more pleasant note, this link on Dick’s blog allowed me to revisit why I love dancing to Michael Jackson’s music and why watching him sing and move is still joyful—a gift he leaves us all. May he rest in peace.

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What my father gave me

When I was in graduate school nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a short story about my father. It was part truth laced heavily with fiction, and rather harsh on him. My father never read the story, but many years later I read it to a group of elderly people as part of Northern Essex Community College’s Lifelong Learning series. Several older gentlemen approached me after the reading, grasping my hand firmly in their gnarled ones, and telling me, their eyes wet with emotion, that they knew my father had loved me—that he had loved me very much. I remember being stunned by their response.

They seemed to want very much to explain my father’s behavior as a product of the times more than a reflection of his true feelings. I like to think that expectations for fathers have changed since those days. With time, my view of my father has also changed—now that he has been gone for 16 years and I have children of my own. He wasn’t demonstrative, it’s true, but instead of soft words and hugs, my father gave me an unwavering sense of integrity to self. That integrity included standing by your family, being loyal to your friends, and above all, being accountable to yourself. Looking back at the way he modeled those values, I realize instilling the same qualities in my own children is my way of passing on this precious gift.

Happy Father’s Day, and if you’re lucky enough to still have yours with you, please take a moment today to thank him for the gifts he’s given you.

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A thought for Memorial Day

Each year at this time, I am reminded of family members whose lives were touched irrevocably by war: my uncle Joe who served as a medic in World War II and who through eight decades of life spoke often of  a war that shaped his view of the world; my cousin Neal who came back from Vietnam a changed man, and my nephew Danny whose experiences as a member of the Marine Special Forces during Desert Storm seem to impact him still. On Memorial Day, I can’t help but also think of the loved ones who have left us and whose lives, however brief, have touched our own. In those moments, I am comforted by these words from Helen Keller: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we cannot lose; for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

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Out of state, out of mind

Aloha. Just got back to Lowell from a visit to the 50th state, and I gotta tell you, I’m not feeling Dorothy-like about being home. Thank God spring arrived in my absence! (Or have we skipped spring and gone straight to summer?) Anyway, the daffodils, grape hyacinths, and magnolia blossoms scattering my pitiful lawn offered a much-needed welcome. Yes, I am home again and completely out of touch with all the wonderful (not) things that have happened in my absence. Please bear with me as I recover from the marathon 16 hours of travel we endured and clear my mind of Hawaii’s white-sand beaches, aqua-blue waters teeming with colorful fish, and swaying palm trees to focus on being back in Lowell.  Swine flu?  Higher taxes? More information requests causing upset with particular school committee members? Whatever. Pass me some coconut shrimp and a Mai Tai: Re-entry is going to be difficult.

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A thought for Easter

No matter what your religious affiliations (or not), Easter, like spring, is a time for rebirth, renewal and hope. Those of us who live in New England know how much a sunny day—albeit a cool one—can do to lift the spirits. During tough times, especially, it is important to remember to be grateful for our blessings and to put our fears aside. I found encouragement this morning from the words of Desmond Tutu, renowned South African peace activist and apartheid opponent:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

love is stronger than hate;

light is stronger than darkness;

 life is stronger than death.

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Not worth worrying about

The last time I truly worried about money, I mean the kind of worry that gnaws at your gut, was when my husband and I were in graduate school and unemployed. At the height of my worry about bills, lost revenue, and debt, my mother went into the hospital for tests and died three weeks later. Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, I experienced my own version of a fist clenched to the heavens when I vowed never to let money worries invade my life again. After all, what was a little debt compared to losing my precious mother?


Fast forward nearly two decades and a different kind of worry grips me—that is, my son’s health. As a family, we faced his diagnosis of Hodgkins lymphoma and the terrible treatments that followed with determination and prayer. The support of family, friends, and community got us through, but even after we knew we had killed the cancer, I carried heart-clenching fear with me always. It occurs to me now that my worry about his health, like my worry about money years ago, hinders my ability to fully enjoy each moment and appreciate every gift—from the simplest pleasure of biking in the sun yesterday to the incredible joy of seeing him strong and healthy again. Worry is its own kind of cancer. It eats away at our enjoyment of life and does absolutely nothing to change the situation. So today, I resolve to face each challenge with courage, try my best at all my endeavors, and NOT worry about the outcome. I recommend you do the same. If we truly put aside the worry, and work on what we can do to improve things (look for work, get to the gym, become involved in our community), we free ourselves from the destructive cycle of worthless worrying and may actually get something done.

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Clear scans, skip town

As many of you know, we’ve been dealing with a family health crisis these last seven months. My son Luke has been battling Hodgkins lymphoma while attending high school and swimming for the LHS team, which the Sun wrote about here. After watching him endure months of chemotherapy and radiation, last Tuesday we travelled to Children’s Hospital in Boston for a day of tests and post-treatment scans to determine if we had killed the disease. We got the results that the scans were clear just hours before last Wednesday’s school committee meeting. By Thursday evening, we had packed the car, picked up two more kids—one friend for each of ours—and headed to the White Mountains for a long weekend of cross-country skiing, skating, snowboarding (the boys), and best-of-all, sitting in a steaming hot tub surrounded by mountains with snowflakes kissing our cheeks. (That is, until the boys snowboarded to the base and threw snowballs at us!) Despite driving home in last night’s blizzard, the entire trip was a much-needed escape from months of worry, heart-wrenching treatments, and stress. It occurred to me as we travelled the winding roads and I marveled at the evergreens clothed in thick white blankets, a living testament to beauty and strength: We suffer so we can appreciate the magnitude of our blessings.

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Technology changing elderly care

Although she lives in Boston, my friend travels to Lowell several times a week to care for her elderly parents. Her phone alarm goes off periodically, no matter where she is, to remind her to make sure her mother has taken her medicine. She gets them to appointments, checks up on their medications, prepares their food, and discusses their treatment with multiple caretakers and specialists; but she cannot be there 24/7 and she worries about them. My own dear mother-in-law died four years ago after having a stroke in her apartment at an independent living facility for seniors.  When she didn’t come down for breakfast or lunch, a facility manager checked on her, but by then the damage from the stroke was too severe, and she was gone from us.  According to this recent article in the New York Times, new personal health technology could have saved my mother-in-law’s life, or at the very least, could help put my friend’s mind at ease regarding her parents’ care. As many of us live longer and have to face the inevitable health complications that go along with aging, perhaps these new technologies will allow us to “rage against the dying of the light,” a bit more.  If the technology—such as sensors noting you got out of bed and didn’t go anywhere prompting emergency personnel at your door—feels too Big Brotherish for you, consider it a tool to remain independent long “into that good night.” Anyway, it’s something to think about.

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It’s all about the food

I’m not a football fan, but I live with those who follow the sport with passion and even this year, without the Pats, the day revolved around getting in front of the television by 6:00 pm. My role is to provide the food, and I came up with some decent Buffalo Wings, courtesy of a great barbecue blog I stumbled across. Of course, it meant deep-frying, which is normally taboo in my cooking, but, hey, it’s the last big football day of the year (we don’t count the pro-ball, apparently). And, at least we didn’t have the Bacon Explosion! I also grilled London Broils, which we sliced thin and stacked onto garlic toasts with horseradish cream sauce. Yum! We’re voting for Arizona and at half-time, they missed a goal or something, so we comforted ourselves with Jackie’s healthy and spicy bean soup.

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