This wasn’t Mozart, and it ain’t no jungle

My favorite weekend of the year is always the last weekend in July. The Lowell Folk 2017-Jul-29_Folk-Festival-2017_1195_edited-1Festival – a free (!) and frenetic amalgam of music, food, and culture – is worth planning around, which is, exactly what we do.

2017-Jul-30_Lowell-Folk-Fest-2017_1323Over the 31 years that the festival has been here, it seems to me it has developed into a better and better version of itself. This year, with stellar weather, not too hot and most definitely not too humid, was one of the best.

The music is naturally one of the biggest draws. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1031Where else can you go to sample everything from Armenian to Zydeco? I mean that literally.  When we first started coming to the Festival, we would carefully plan out which bands to listen to, and that’s not a bad strategy, really. But what we’ve done in recent times is move from place to place listening to music that is not necessarily in our cultural comfort zone. Doing so has been a great way to get some exposure to music we wouldn’t necessarily listen to on Pandora or iTunes.  Great stuff.

 

Over the years, we’ve also come to appreciate Friday nights, the first night of Folk Festival. While the crowds and 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1036excitement of Saturday and Sunday of Festival weekend are energetic, there is a different kind of vibe to Friday. There is a goodly amount of community pride when the 6:30 parade kicks off. Representing many – not all – of the cultures of Lowell, it causes this Blowellian to realize what a special community we have here in Lowell. The diverse cultures making up our community fabric is a great source of pride for all of us. Long-established cultures that immigrated here during the hey days of the mills or newer immigrant groups establishing homes – all were represented in the kick-off to the weekend. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1039

But there was a little something more this past Friday: there was a feeling of kind togetherness and consideration. A festival-goer, a stranger to me, insisted I take a cushion as I knelt down on the grass of Boarding House Park to photograph the parade. Random concert goers started up and 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1100_edited-1carried on conversations, enjoying the music and the collegiality.  I think this shift in attitudes must have become contagious. One of the Park Rangers we spoke with on Sunday was delighted to point out his radio had been 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1153very quiet all weekend because, in spite of large crowds, everyone was well-behaved.

An event of this size takes lots of organization and many, many dedicated volunteers – from fundraisers to recyclers to people who run the cameras for broadcast.  If you were at this year’s festival, you may have run into a few of them from the Bucket Brigade. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1111In order to put on a festival of this size, there is a huge financial commitment from community partnerships to donations large and small.  You can continue to donate to the Lowell Festival Foundation’s fundraising efforts and, in doing so, get ready for the next festival.

Next summer, on the last weekend of July, the dedicated volunteers and sponsors who organize Lowell Folk Festival will do it all again for the 32nd time.  I know where I will be, and I hope you’ll join in the fun too.

2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1067

 

The Discomfort of New Places

IMG_1444In theory, I enjoy the idea of travel. In reality, I miss my “stuff”. And knowing precisely where everything is.

There is nothing like 24 hours in airports and planes and a 6-hour time zone change to turn even the most Pollyanna-ish of us into raging maniacs of intolerance for humanity. And that is especially true if you have to connect to anyplace through LAX.

IMG_1470But the physical – and mental – discomfort of getting to and from a new place is not where the value of travel can be found. The value of travel, for me, is found in a new sense of understanding.

Speaking for myself, as much as I want to try to fit in – to have that truly locally inspired experience – it will be quite easy to spot me as a visitor.  While it can be exhilarating to break away from the familiar, it is disconcerting. Learning to negotiate my environment when it is unfamiliar has a rather steep learning curve fraught with opportunities to look idiotic. Try asking for postage in French. Or coffee in London (“you takin’?”) .

IMG_1485Whether it is learning that my northeastern compulsion to life’s pace, or aggressive driving, or whatever it is in my daily life that drives me, building more understanding of someone or something different for me comes from travel. This time around I learned that frozen concoctions are indeed delicious breakfast foods. And pineapple juice and champagne do indeed go together.

So along with those magnificent views, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, I hope I’ve learned, absorbed, and maybe take a bit of understanding what once was unfamiliar back with me.

IMG_1516

The change is the thing

flipout

2015 has been a transition year for me – personally and professionally. What had always been has flipped end over end, and now there is a new lens through which the world is viewed. There is no holding on to the old as this world and the environment around me is always changing. Kind of like this image – sometimes a new point of view changes everything. And, while sometimes met with less than enthusiastic appreciation, the change is the thing.

So here’s to 2016 and to meeting the changes a new year will undoubtedly bring. To looking at things from a new perspective. And to health and happiness to you and your families.

Urban Exploring

A year ago, my patient spouse and I moved from an exurb to the city of Lowell, MA. Even though we lived in the center of this (formerly) small town, walking was not an easy activity. In fact the walk score for our former address was 24 – meaning most every errand requires a car.

In addition to the advantages of downsizing at this time of our life and letting go of an incredible accumulation of “stuff”, we are thoroughly enjoying the advantages of city dwelling. There are real sidewalks here! And the walk score is 94 out of 100.

This summer I’ve made walking around Lowell a priority. There are lots of good reasons for this, not the least of which is walking is good (and painless) exercise.

Armed with my iPhone, I try to notice and record at least one part of my walk each day. I’m certainly not a street photographer and an iPhone does not make me Henri Cartier-Bresson, but it’s kind of a fun reminder to look around and appreciate what surrounds me.

What follows is a compilation of walking around this historic and beautiful city. And we’re off to more places to explore.

Becoming Good Neighbors

Our Fourth Graders were charged this year with finding and executing a community service project. Luckily, we needed to look no farther than a small City park about a block from our school. Lincoln Square Park honors our 16th president with a IMG_0148monument erected by Lowell school children in the early 1900s and a small and pleasant green space in a neighborhood surrounded by businesses and multi-family houses right off one of the main roads in and out of the City of Lowell.

Several weeks ago, students cleaned the park of a winter’s worth of trash and planted a few flowers that we were able to purchase through a student penny collection. It was a great experience for our kids. That day they became park overseers – they are quite passionate when they go back to the park and find a dropped cup or wrapper.

One of our community partners, Washington Savings Bank and Vichtcha Kong, learned of our project and gifted the students with a generous donation. This week, we put that donation to use. We re-stained the 6 park benches and added more annuals to the monument area. And the result?
IMG_0178

Well, the neighbors surrounding the Park are also getting into the excitement of restoring Lincoln Square Park into a slice of green community space.  Yes, there is still trash but it unofficially seems less.

As we were staining benches, cars on nearby Chelmsford Street honked and  shouted encouragement to our students. A nearby business owner came over to help me open a container of stain and when the two of us didn’t have the right tool to get the lid off, she involved the “guys” from a nearby car repair shop.  Grandparents wheeling babies stopped to ask us what we were doing and thanked us.  Sometimes we just got a smile or a nod, but the appreciation was loud and clear. And for the first time in my memory, we saw several folks just sitting in the park enjoying being outdoors on a pleasant mid-June day. It made me wonder: isn’t this what the Park’s designers intended?

When a school becomes collaborator with the community, just look at what can happen! In addition to being centers for learning, schools must be good neighbors.

You May Never Know How Much That Means

As I checked out of the supermarket this week, I heard someone calling my name. That’s pretty unusual as my grocery store is in the next town. It’s not what you might assume; the next town allows food shopping and wine buying in the same place.  I like to call it lowering my carbon footprint or practicing fuel conservation.

Since I’m horrible with placing people outside of the everyday, usual spots, this lovely woman didn’t leave me hanging. She (re)introduced herself and the minute she stated her name I knew where we had met. About 25 years ago, I taught her youngest son.

Memories of an engaging second grader flooded back in an instant. Hearing he was already 31 left me speechless. That was just not possible. He just had to be 8 or 9, maybe 12. 31? I couldn’t believe it. How thoughtful of his mom to recognize me and to let me know how he was!

One of the best fringe benefits of teaching? Catching up with students who have passed through my classroom. It doesn’t matter if it’s been one year, or 21 years. Each one holds a special place in my heart and mind.

Hearing from former students is an honor and privilege for every teacher. Don’t ever stop. You may never know how much it means.

 

 

 

One door closes and another opens

I hope you will not mind this personal post. Our lives have been consumed for the last three months with selling our home, the place we have spent the last 20 years.

We bought this home in 1994. Built in 1931, its structure reminded both of us of our childhood; in fact I often referred to the architecture as “Leave It To Beaver” or Father Knows Best”. I realize that puts me in a certain age group :-).

Last spring, after shoveling what had to be a ton of snow, we decided to put our house on the market. It’s always enlightening to find out what matters to buyers. At times our house was described as well maintained, small, not worth the ask, old (no kidding!). One looker complained that we had more than one type of tile in the house. We learned to have a thick skin.

However, a buyer willing to wait for a new septic system and appreciative of an older gem of a house, is about to sign on. I feel a responsibility to our old house. It needs someone to love it as we have. I think our new buyers will do that.

Today is our last visit to the old place. In a few days we will no longer own property. Walking through an empty house and listening to the echoes of memories is bittersweet. There’s been sadness and grief and indescribable joyousness within these walls.

And while we turn the lock on our past 20 years, we remain hopeful that the next 20, the next adventures, will be as sweet.