News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Much ado about nothing regarding patriotism

I’m one of those Americans who love my country, the ideals on which it was founded, and especially my right to criticize its leaders. But I do not always love my government—particularly the current administration and its eight years of misguided policies. (That’s why we vote.) When I heard about Michelle Obama’s comment last February, “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country,” I knew where she was coming from and I was okay with it. I was okay with her being proud of how momentous this presidential primary is in the history of our nation, and I was okay with her not being proud of other moments from our past. It was a comment, however, that caused quite a stir in conservative GOP circles, and perhaps brought some angst to Barack Obama’s campaign.  For me, it snapped into humorous focus the other night when Jon Stewart quipped on the Daily Show: “Democrats have to prove they love America… as opposed to Republicans—who everyone knows love America—they just hate half the people living in it.” 

posted in Laughing Matters, National issues | 0 Comments

Life, liberty and health insurance for all

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve had health insurance my whole life and never really needed it—until now. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated being able to go for annual physicals and have my insurance cover the costs minus a co-pay. I also took advantage of preventative care that enabled regular doctor and dental visits for my children, and any labs or x-ray work required. But we were healthy, and the benefit simply offered peace of mind. This summer, however, all that changed. My child needed two tests, a PETscan and a CATscan, that without insurance would have cost us nearly $10,000, and that’s just the beginning.  When you’re facing a health concern, the last thing your family should have to worry about is the cost. Yet, it’s the first medical form you’re required to complete: Who is the party responsible for payment?!

Over the last few weeks, the Boston Globe has published several stories on how more Mass. residents have health insurance since the state made coverage mandatory. Based on a state report, an August 20 article noted that 439,000 of an estimated 600,000 uninsured residents are now enrolled in some plan—although federal payments of $11 billion over the next three years are vital for its continued success.  A later article claimed errors in coverage resulted in hundreds of patients losing insurance erroneously. And yesterday, the Globe reported on a national census regarding average health insurance coverage from 2005-2007. The federal report from the U.S. Census Bureau lists Texas as having the highest uninsured rate at 24.5%, and Massachusetts, at 8.3%, as one of the lowest. Can you imagine the horror of a loved one needing an expensive test, medication, or treatment and having to mortgage your home or go into deep financial debt to pay for it? For nearly one quarter of all Texans that could be their reality. For even one family to face a situation like that is unconscionable. From my new vantage point as someone currently embroiled in a high-stakes ride through our healthcare system, it’s become crystal clear that health insurance, like freedom of speech and public schools, should be an unalienable right.

posted in In the News | 0 Comments

Last day to register to vote in primary

Statewide, voter registration forms must be postmarked TODAY in order to vote in the Sept. 16 Massachusetts Primary. (Oct. 15 is the deadline for voting in the national election on Nov. 4.) To vote, you must be a Massachusetts resident, a citizen, and at least 18 years old, and you must register 20 days before the election. Register by completing this form and mailing it to your town or city’s election department. If you are a first-time voter registering by mail, you must provide a copy of your identification or you will be required to show proof of residency at the polling location on election day. You may also register in person. In Lowell, you have until 8 p.m. tonight to register in person at City Hall, 375 Merrimack Street. New citizens may register to vote after the deadline by bringing their dated naturalization papers to city hall by 4 p.m. the day before the election. Also, poll workers are needed (bi-lingual and otherwise) and interested applicants should visit Lowell City Hall to complete an application or contact Seda at 978-970-4046. It is a full day of work and pays between $96-$125. Please, if you know non-voting citizens or recently turned 18-year-olds, urge them to get involved, informed, and VOTE! It matters.

posted in City Life, Local Politics | 0 Comments

New school year begins for “family-friendly city”

This morning I happened to hear the tail end of an interview with Supt. Chris Scott on WCAP Radio as she welcomed teachers, students and parents to a new school year. Since today was the first day of school for Lowell children in grades 1-9, the timing was perfect.  Dr. Scott briefly mentioned the enrollment concerns for kindergarten, first, third and seventh grades where some classes have an average of 25 students rather than the preferred size of 22. (The school committee will be discussing this topic at a special meeting tomorrow at 7 p.m., second floor conference room at 155 Merrimack Street—more on that issue in a later post.) What stuck out for me about this morning’s conversation was Dr. Scott’s assessment of Lowell as a “family-friendly city,” not only because we have been able to maintain our lunch costs at $1.75, but also because we do not charge fees for students to participate in sports, nor do we charge to bus students in grades K-8. Many neighboring communities have not been able to do the same, with parents in some districts paying $500 per student for sports and $300 for busing. Over the last few years in Lowell, the district has been able to save $700,000 in transportation costs while also increasing the number of student riders—even reducing eligibility requirements to pre-2003 distances of 1½  miles for middle-school students and ¾ mile for elementary students. Also, Dick has a post regarding LHS recently being named as one of the top 50 high schools in the state. In Lowell, we still have a way to go to excellence, but I’m thinking there’s a lot to like about Lowell schools. Welcome back!

posted in Education, Lowell High, Success stories | 0 Comments

Culture counts

A reader commented on my previous post about the upcoming course at the Revolving Museum taught by Bob Forrant and referenced CultureCount as a great resource. Created by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), CultureCount seeks to quantify the contributions made by creative and cultural oranizations. A similar effort was made by The Non-Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell who commissioned their own study a few years ago. Called “Community Threads,” the publication highlights the integral role played in our community by Non-Profits (including cultural groups), who meet the critical needs of many diverse groups while also providing gainful employment to local residents. CultureCount takes this effort to a new level with a tool called the “CultureCount Impact Calculator,” which is being piloted in Massachusetts. This interactive tool will “demonstrates the economic impact of the nonprofit cultural sector and then estimates how changes in the sector affect a community or region’s employment, income, and property values.” Given the troubling reappearance of Question 1 on this year’s ballot, these types of studies and statistical analyses could be extremely helpful in showing people how important the non-profit sector is to the region as a whole.

posted in Art, Local Groups, State Concerns | 0 Comments

More music in the park

The Friends of Tyler Park present their last show of the season tonight with a favorite from last year: Jan Kearney and the Lost Onion. This non-traditional blues band impressed the crowd when they opened for Los Lobos at Boarding House Park last September, and tonight will be another chance to enjoy their unique sound. Looks like great weather for a concert, and as usual, the Friends will offer free hot dogs, popcorn and lemonade. The fun starts at 6:30 pm; the band plays from 7:00-8:00 pm.

posted in Art, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Searching for the silver lining

Monday was my mother’s birthday. If she were still alive, my huge immediate family (six siblings, spouses and kids) would have celebrated together: consuming lots of food and drink, and making plenty of noise—maybe even playing a rousing game of pick-up charades around the dining room table. Since she died 18 years ago, my sisters and I have created a new tradition. We spend my mother’s birthday just the four of us. We walk the beach, play games, eat, drink and remember our mother with tears and laughter. For me, it has become a day that not only reminds me of her, but also confirms that no matter how painful life can be, there is hope that something good will come from the suffering. Sisters Day is a gift we give each other in honor of our mother who loved us so well. For me, the day has come to symbolize how the worst times in my life were also moments that led to the greatest personal growth, empathy for others, and gratitude for life’s blessings. Still, I have to admit, the potential for personal growth offers little consolation when you’re in the middle of heart-wrenching pain. As my family now faces every parent’s nightmare, a sick child, I try to remind myself to search for the silver lining—that we will get through this hard time and be better for it. (I’ll have to get back to you on how we do with that.)

posted in Just life | 1 Comment

What’s up on Shattuck Street

The Revolving Museum has done it again: they see a need and fill it! I was amazed at how few art classes for adults seemed to be available in the area, and now I see that there will be several classes offered by the Museum in September. They will have drawing, beading and sculpture taught by highly-qualified Massachusetts artists; see the brochure for class descriptions and fees. In addition, they will be offering an interesting course entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Creative Economy but Were Afraid to Ask”. Taught by UML Professor Bob Forrant this looks to be a provocative analysis of the current economic situation in the region with an emphasis on how creative individuals contribute. This should be of great interest to all stakeholders in the Valley. Bob Forrant doesn’t sugarcoat things either, so expect some stimulating discussion and bold ideas.

posted in Art, City Life | 2 Comments

“Made in Lowell, MA USA”

I was in Trader’s Joe’s in Nashua Tyngsboro today when I noticed a collection of reusable grocery bags for sale. The brightly colored red bags with a black-and-white store motif caught my attention immediately, and then I realized they were made in Lowell! The tag, printed on recycled paper, noted that not only were the bags “distributed and sold exclusively for Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, CA,” but they were made of “heavy duty 100% cotton” with reinforced stress points. At a cost of $2.99 each, I decided to buy one even though I had my own collection of reusable grocery bags with me. At the checkout, I mentioned to the cashier that I couldn’t resist buying a bag made in Lowell, and he told me I was the second customer this week to comment on them. He also pointed out that he had seen a five-fold increase in the number of customers bringing their own bags to the store in the last year, a fact he attributed, in part, to TJ’s efforts to provide incentives for East Coast customers to bring their own bags—something they’ve been doing in California, where the company is based, for years. (When you use your own bag, you enter a drawing to win $25 in TJ products.) My otherwise uneventful trip to the grocery ended on an upbeat note: more folks getting away from using environmentally unfriendly plastic bags and quality workmanship being made in my home city. Now if we could just get them to open a store downtown…

posted in City Life, Environment | 2 Comments

Thought for today

“What is it you plan on doing with your one wild and precious life?” is a line from a Mary Oliver poem that circled my head this morning when I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep. My prayer is to spend my life with people I love, contributing something meaningful. As a recent convert to Oliver, a prolific, best-selling poet whose words resonate with simple beauty, I can’t wait to get her latest book Thirst Red Bird. For today, here is a poem fromThirst shared by Pastor Cindy Worthington-Berry, who herself always seems to be a light in my day:

“When I Am Among Trees” by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

posted in Poetry | 0 Comments

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