Friday, November 16, 2018

#ParkTV As I See Things (Six) Snow Makes Me Feel Like I have Synesthesia

 

Based on the smell in the air last night, I knew snow would sneak in while I slept. 
An incoming storm smells damp and cold and shiny and assertive. Like silver.

But on a day like this, when it arrives and piles upon itself and becomes more than just a 
few flakes, it isn’t silver after all. It is an entity soon to become a memory, and will blend 
with all others to become a “Snow Day” already over before it has truly begun.

I hear the silence of it before I open my eyes. I hear no leaves dancing, I hear no dogs 
barking, I hear no cars commuting up the mountain road. I hear none of my neighbors 
stirring.

Then, out of the darkness of my head, the plow scrapes by. I taste the coffee still on the 
breath of the man pushing powder and ice out of the road. This wakes me. I open my 
eyes and push the blind aside to see that everything on the park seems dusted with pale 
blue. A watered down periwinkle.  

The phone rings and I feel it in my chest as a robot voice says something about 
“inclement weather” and “school is closed.” A gratitude for time in my home makes my 
toes wiggle.

Fresh sun shares its light only with early risers and the slightness of it is surprising and 
joyful. Outside another window my daughter pauses while shoveling to scoop snow into 
her mouth. She wants to shovel and I don’t argue. I am hungry and guilty watching her 
work. How can I embody both at once?

Breakfast. Tea.

I feel a chill as my teeth hurt. I process thoughts about how millions of frigid water 
droplets have formed to make a day for us to escape the real world. Snow tastes like all 
demands are cancelled. A pause button on the day.

But there will be a make-up day for this “Snow Day.” And it will be added on at the end 
of the school year after dandelions have pushed through green grass and gone to seed. 
Sweat forms beneath a scarf I’m not wearing. It’s what I will feel in June long after the 
scarf has been packed away in the attic.

Snow days sound like comfort: A tea kettle whistling, furnace kicking on, plow trucks 
scraping by every hour on the hour. I swallow a pleasant gratitude for their efforts.

Between these I am wrapped in a silence as deep as this storm itself.

It could be months before it melts. I scrape up every aspect and slip it into my soul’s 
pocket.

My toes love how a warm blanket tastes when it rests on my feet and my feet rests on the 
chair. I hear complete gratitude (it is the silence of snowflakes) and I crawl inside my 
writing.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

#ParkTV As I see Things (Five) Glug, glug, glug

Pictured below are #Atticfinds (soap)

Inline image

What makes me a submerging writer? 

 I will use the metaphor of my upstairs bathroom to explain how I am a submerging writer because my writing brings me joy and stress and so does that amazing yet ridiculous room. Since we bought our Victorian home, I have wanted install an antique cast iron tub because I felt like the house would be perfect with it. I pictured myself resting my neck against the rim while staring at a candle across the room, the bubbles and warm water soothing my tired muscles.

About seven years ago, I purchased a claw foot for $50, but had to bring it to my classroom where it could be used by kindergartners as a reading nook because there was no room for it in our bathroom. 

Yes, I purchase things on a whim sometimes… don’t we all? It was a good deal.

The tub went directly to my classroom until two years ago when I insisted we remodel the upstairs bathroom and install the tub. I asked a handyman to break through the wall, enlarge the room, tile a larger shower stall, and hook up my claw foot tub.

He said that the tub was the “heaviest fucking thing that's ever gone up a flight of stairs.”  It took two strong men, long planks of wood and a pulley system to make it happen. 


My husband said, “We’re running out of money for the project!” about three days after the project began.

And it's all my fault. I own it. I insisted on the remodel. I thought I was helping the situation, but perhaps you know how old houses can be. Once you begin on a project, there is no turning back; often the problems become bigger than ever imagined when we try to run new pipes and attach them to previous ones.

I will admit that we never should have remodeled the bathroom because to this day, two years later, the bathroom is still not quite finished. It simply became too expensive. 

To think the entire thing began because of a desire to take a particular bath only seen in movies. 

And there was a drippy faucet and a slow leak into the dining room below, which is how I convinced my husband that we should rip the old bathroom apart to begin with.

Here is a list of what could STILL be done:
Knotty pine paneling added to one section of the wall.
The “temporary” door removed and the real door frame and door built and hung.
The floor finished.
The tub faucet fixed (the tub faucet purchased on EBAY drips and only runs hot!)
New tiling by the toilet.
 
Oh, I could go on but I won't.

We went through a phase this past summer, when drain water from the toilet splashed through a massive cast iron pipe (that was so old it needed to be replaced) to the kitchen downstairs -—I know, gross— and the shower drain clogged often caused water to drip into the lathe and plaster of the dining room ceiling. All these problems, which were not caused by the remodel, have been addressed and solved, thankfully.

Stressful? Absolutely. Time consuming? Yep. Expensive. Uh-huh. Worth it? 

Sure.

The water is scalding hot when it pours from the faucet into the tub, but I fill it anyway and retreat to my writing desk to write for an hour while the water cools. When I finally climb in and submerge myself and the water is the perfect temperature, I close my eyes (so I don’t have to look at the aspects of the bathroom that aren’t done) and think about my characters and the crazy things they will do next.

My unfinished bathroom helps me. I think about finishing all my writing projects while I bathe in an unfinished bathroom. Writing is stressful and time consuming and taking a bath in a claw foot helps alleviate that stress. At least I have my tub!

Writing is worth it. The "remodel" was worth it. 

I both love and hate the way both my bathroom and my writing make me feel. What else can I say? I'm a restless writer who needs a claw foot tub so I can go beneath the surface to block out the world and come back refreshed enough to face it.  

I'm not always submerged in water or deluged with a desire to write, but pretty darn close.

I am proud to call myself a submerging writer.

Monday, July 31, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (Four)


#ParkTV Four
As I See Things

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a child psychologist about “Orchid Children VS Dandelion Children.” I had never heard the theory before so I left his office and read up on it. You can read the link I have provided to “dig deeper” (ha) but I’ll sum it up for you: some kids thrive in any circumstances (dandelions) and some need special treatment to bloom (orchids,) Of course, as with anything, all the pressure and responsibility and reward depends on parenting and education.

No pressure.

Plants. Roots. Heritage. Where we grow. Our environment.

I just finished reading a book:

Rochester
Vermont
August 15, 1901

This book can’t be bought in any bookstore. It wasn’t published by a major house. It bears no ISBN number. I found it in my attic. Yes. The infamous attic. Over the 3 ½ years we have lived in this house, I have unearthed and sold/kept many an item, including but not limited to:

  1. A 48 star flag
  2. Pink China from the 1930’s, new in the box
  3. A stack of Vermont Life magazines from as early as the 1950’s
  4. A Kewpie doll
  5. An original Maxfield Parrish print
  6. Ice skates that fit
  7. Dresses that fit
  8. A photo of Lt. Cobb from the Civil War (I still don’t know who he is, but he is displayed)
  9. And so on (you get the idea)

This book was written by a man named Albert Clarke and it seems to have been prepared as a speech to be read at a celebration of “Old Home Week” on the “Common” (park) in Rochester. In other words, I found a script from an old episode of #ParkTV back before there were TVs or any way to blog about #ParkTV. Here is an excerpt:

“STRENGTH OF THE HILLS

“O, grand old hills, who saw these scenes and helped to make these people what they are, I never see or think of them without feeling that they are
                        ‘A part
Of me and of my soul, as I of them.’

and I envy those who are privileged to live here the delight of climbing them and taking in the sweetest air which they give forth and thinking the lofty thoughts which they inspire. What the 20th century may have in store for Rochester, I know not. Changes will come, of course, but while the influence of these hills remain, I cannot think the future will be less glorious than the past and I commend to every new inhabitant the heritage of the high example of the residents who have had their day and gone, a study and development of the natural resources of the region, contentment to remain here coupled with ambition to do the best and utmost for themselves and town, and, greater than all the rest, a ceaseless and reverent contemplation of the glories of Nature, which are revealed here in their perfection and which enable and exalt the soul.”

So much of what Clarke shared was fantastic and profound, but I am going to pick just one aspect to focus on: being “content” to remain here.

Last week, I spent a sunny afternoon contemplating the glories of Nature by ripping weeds out of my vegetable garden. It has been raining a lot this summer, which is great for lettuce, squash, tomatoes and corn, but also supportive of unwelcome invasives. I donned my pink rubber gloves and plopped myself at a corner next to my collection bucket. I grabbed the first weed by the stalk and yanked; it broke away leaving many tendrils behind. I went to the workshop for my hand trowel, dug around the remaining root ball and pulled again. This time I removed every last piece.

Ah. Gone for the moment, but they'd be back. Like dandelions.

Pulling at those weeds not only gave my garden the chance to thrive, I fell into a rhythm of digging, tearing, dumping as I allowed my thoughts to drift with the sounds.

The school board has announced that any of the students in grades 9-12 at Rochester High School can attend the school for the 2017-18 school year but they will be offered only online classes. If this is not a desired option for families, students can choose to attend any school on a generated list and tuition will be paid. Needless to say, our family has to make a decision about our two oldest for this year —which will begin in about a month— rather than next year. Aside from shopping around and making lists of pros and cons, I am clueless about how to facilitate making a final choice about the future of my children’s education.

I thought about the two “nearby” schools we visited a few days before, what other families have chosen to do, how small the high school had become and how while one son was part of a class of a dozen kids, my other son’s class had dwindled to only four. With the cost of education due to all the mandates, it is impossible to sustain.

“Be careful what you ask for because you just may get it,” I thought. I wanted a choice and now there is one. We HAVE to choose.

I wasn’t pro-Model One (Study Committee One Stop Shop) because my decision for school options were removed and my thinking was done for me and with this model, there was only one choice. Declining enrollment and Act 46 caused of the destruction of our school. It is terribly sad that things have come to this.

Clarke didn’t see this coming. In his book, he spoke of education: “In 1790, two years after the town was organized, a tax of 20 pounds was voted for the schooling of children, and 10 pounds for all other town expenses. This showed the importance attached to education and ever since then Rochester has been known as a town of culture.” Clarke goes on to describe the various school districts and how there grew to be 522 students and 16 school “districts” in Rochester. But now, obviously, the population has decreased.

Yes. Those of us who have chosen to live here in this place owe it to those who lived here in the past to be happy about being here and do what’s best for ourselves and for the town all while revering nature. That’s why I’m still here watching #ParkTV.

The hard part now is that I have to rip my children up by their roots and rely on another place to give them exactly what they need. 

Maybe they’re dandelions rather than orchids.
 


Sunday, July 9, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (Three)



“May you live all the days of your life.”
Jonathan Swift

Living life is the only way to live life, right? For if you’re not alive you’re obviously not living. I wonder if Swift meant “live it up” or maybe he meant to be aware of every moment. Perhaps his words slipped out or someone misquoted him.

Anything’s possible. We obviously can’t ask him what he meant since he died hundreds of years ago. We can’t question the dead. Finality is the hard part about death.

My late father John Braun (his obituary) was terrible at small talk. Once he asked someone, “When you walk to work, do you walk to work?” It was one of his most quoted quotes. He had a few good ones.

After he died, memories of him tended to wash over me almost constantly. I thought of his many funny stories and his advice a lot and now that he’s gone, I have to figure things out without him, rely upon myself and find my true voice.

My courage to stand up against the establishment came from my father. He often said, “Remember, you’re Amy Goddamn Braun. Never let them tell you otherwise.” In other words… be yourself and follow only what you know to be true.

Even though I have little control over the outcome, it’s been important to express my feelings about local politics. As verbal and unfiltered as I can be at times —like my father— no one doubts where I stand. He would be proud.

Although the town of Rochester voted “NO” to the Model One Merger in late June (read here for more information), the Study Committee (706 B) for the Supervisory Union still had to free us.

We have been under 706 B’s control (forced to be a reality because of Act 46) from the beginning and they had to VOTE to relinquish this control! If you’re not confused, that’s because you haven’t attend enough meetings.

There have been SO MANY meetings and either my husband or I have attended as many as possible to stay ahead of the curve. 706 B was formed to make decisions for the children of our town, the majority of these meetings were not held in our town and public comments were taken at the END of every meeting. 706 B members from other towns said things like: “I know this is bad for Rochester but…” or “I’m aware the travel for Rochester will be more and the hours longer for the kids but…” And then 706 B voted to make Model One our only choice.

Okay… okay… that’s in the past and I should let it go, but we still had another hurdle: Article 13 (which was later added to this document ). If you are from Rochester, please read the chart entitled Attachment C on page 31 and notice that the Bingo Property (DEEDED TO THE CHILDREN OF ROCHESTER) was to be transferred at no cost. Hmmm. Also note this language on page 18: “Note: This table is for illustration purposes only. These models are estimates and projections. Actual tax rates will vary depending on state policy decisions, actual changes in equalized pupils, and spending decisions of boards. Note also that these tax estimates do not include possible excess penalties, particularly for Rochester in the "No Mergers" scenario.”

In other words: “Resistance is futile.” We are the BORG!" Give up. We know what you need. Infuriating.

Okay. I’ll stop. It’s in the past. Or is it? Why was fear used? I am still bitter about this and at times I wonder what’s next. Seems like it is best that we maintain local control, no? Or at least make sure that the entity in control is not on the other side of a mountain.

At length on July 6th, 706 B and the public discussed what to do next. At one point a person from Bethel sitting next to me whispered, “I don’t understand what’s going on. I thought Rochester voted no. Doesn’t that mean you’re done with the merger? What is this meeting about anyway?”

I said, “They have to vote to release us and they have to vote to reject Plan B.”

She asked, “Do you know what Plan B is in the medical world?” She’s a nurse.

After I shook my head no, she told me Plan B is a code name for the abortion pill. Then she said, “Abort. Abort. Abort the mission.”

I laughed. What else was there to do but laugh? This whole thing has been exhausting and confusing. It was designed that way. Here’s another good quote I’ve been thinking about lately: “If you are not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” Jack Welch.

Uh-huh. That about sums things up.

Before voting, 706 B summarized:
  1. An affirmative vote is negative to Article 13 so that means we are not moving forward with the plan if we affirm it.
  2. Dissolving Plan B dissolves the plan to merge with Bethel which would have been temporary anyway and is not the best solution.
  3. We will all have to go back to the drawing board.
  4. We are running out of time.

Of course there was a lot of discussion. The woman next to me raised her hand and declared, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what’s happening. What’s next?”

The head of 706 B patiently explained the situation in different terms, after which I felt even more confused. Affirmative is negative. Not moving. Voting. Dissolving. Affirmative. Ok. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

And alas, one of the members of 706 B from Bethel said, “I came here tonight with a different opinion but now I changed my mind. I don’t want Rochester to have to be attached to us anymore. I don’t want to hold anyone hostage. Rochester should be free to go off and do whatever it is that they want to do next.”

Yes! I was so relieved that she was willing to let Rochester go. But now 706 B has more work to do as they have to find another solution for Bethel and South Royalton. I am sorry 706 B members. It is not your fault. It was created this way. Designed to enmesh us. To scare us.

But letting Rochester go was the right thing to do. We have been released. I fought tears of relief. Tears of gratitude.

Lately my tears are so close to the surface because I’m also grieving the loss of my father. Time will help. Rituals help too. Help me to let go. To release him.

Just a few weeks ago, when my cousin held a memorial for my father in Georgia we had several rituals: two Marine’s folded a flag in his honor and presented it to my oldest brother, Chris. They also gave a small flag to my father’s widow. We told stories and watched a slideshow of his life. Then by the pond we set off fireworks and lit five Japanese lanterns and released them. As the glowing orbs drifted up, I thought: Bye dad. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss hearing your laugh.

But I won’t forget the things you taught me:
You taught me to question things.
You taught me to stand up for myself and others.
You taught me the value of working hard.

After the orbs disappeared from sight I noticed that a swarm of red ants had crawled from the warm Georgia soil and onto my feet. I swiped at them as they nibbled.

Yes. I’m still here. Living. Feeling pain at his loss.

Time to let go. To move on.

And yes dad, when I walk to work, I’ll walk to work. I’ll think of you sometimes and I’ll smile.








Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (Two)


This is my blog, my opinion, “As I See Things #ParkTV Two,” so please know I’m sharing my thoughts and you’re welcome to agree or disagree.

I live Rochester, Vt (a small town centered around a beautiful park) in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Its smallness is both a blessing and a curse. Act 46 has been pressuring us to consolidate with other schools through tax incentives and threat of losing grants to save on educational costs all within the muscle of a very tight timeline.

Recently many people from towns across the State pushed back against the legislature to get more time to make decisions (VT Digger Article) and fortunately the deadline has been extended for a few more months. The Department of Education has to approve whatever plan we determine.

More time eases the pressure. Thomas Jefferson would have agreed with allowing more time, for he said, “Delay is preferable to error.”

Vermont (and some other states) have begun to “bleed out” because there are fewer kids these days. It's no secret the cost of education is on the rise. It is obvious there are big problems with rising costs and the fact that our pastoral way of life is in danger. Some folks feel that consolidating our resources is the answer to making things cheaper.

So, the consolidation re vote is in and the answer is NO. We will not merge in that way. Thou shall not pass. In that way.

In short, this means that Rochester will NOT pool resources with two other schools -one, a high school 45 minutes away and the other a middle school 25 minutes away- and become one school district.

That particular version of our future is not happening. Phew.

My take is that this doesn't deplete our resources, but increases them if we shift our way of looking at things.

Our resources include our teachers, the school building, the forest and the kids. I'm going to also suggest that our greatest asset is the town of Rochester itself:

RASTA (trails)
The National Forest Service all around us
Local businesses
Location (Yes… as isolated as it is.)
And of course the TOWNSPEOPLE.

You may be asking, “Now what do we do?”

My answer:
Now the real work starts, imagination kicks in and a certain degree of risk taking needs to occur from here out. But we can handle it. Look at what we’ve handled before. (Hurrican Irene damaged cemetary) Long before the State or the Feds showed up, we were Vermont Strong.

I woke up very early this morning to travel to Georgia for my father’s memorial. The timing of this trip couldn't be better to travel:

  1. It is always good to change environments to gain perspective.
  2. I need to see immediate family so we can grieve our loss together.
  3. There is uninterrupted time while traveling to consider next steps.

Not that I like leaving home, but I am eager to take this trip because it has been an emotional few months for me and I haven't been myself.

Over the course of three days in early April two significant things happened: my town voted to support the school merger plan (surrendering local control) and my father died of bone cancer. It was probably the worst week of my life.

Dad’s death was quick and painful death but the April 11 vote felt like a slow drawn-out one. See this link to catch up if you want to on how it all went down. In summary, one of the other towns we were to merge with voted NO. From then on it became a house of cards and bit by bit, cards were removed from the  State structure.

I will propose a solution here.

Let’s get creative with our options. Yes, I know that the state probably has another trick up its sleeve to try to gain control of us and Act 46 will use fear tactics, tax threats, timelines and tell us we cannot plan anything beyond “Plan B” and merge with Bethel.

This will not will not change any of the previously mentioned things sway my stance.

It's time now for the townspeople -who were not given a chance before to freely share ideas- to discuss thoughts and ideas.

On the train today, a young stranger (a millennial) and I got to talking across the aisle. It started out we were the only two people in the car. We started talking about movies, news media and landed (of course) on politics. The we actually discussed the outcome of the vote on the merger in Rochester. He said, “Anytime a politician says that something they're planning is best for kids, ignore everything they say after that.” This summed up my feelings about what’s been going on in one sentence.

Turns out the Vermonter across the aisle was a very active member of a group pushing for school choice across the state of Vermont. Based on his opinion school choice is best for small rural towns. He (who by the way hails from a different political party than I do) said, “How exciting for your town to keep control of the outcomes. What can I do to help?” He then went on to give me next steps and suggestions and experts to contact on how to move forward and stay strong.

He provided me with a sense of relief about everything this morning. He understood the system and had energy and skills to be be an active part of interacting with it. He worked on recent local elections and has been in the State House advocating for various platforms including anti-Act 46, and this by the way, is where we overlapped. We have been in the same room before, fighting the same battle though we seemed so different at first glance.

As I travel south and place more distance between me and the place I call home, I see clearly that the answer to everyone’s question of “Now what do we do?” is to find what this young man and I found sitting across from one another. Reach out to someone who is across the aisle from you (or the street, or political party, or table, or opinion, or counter) and ask this question: “What can I do to help?”





Sunday, June 18, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (One)

Living the way I do —as if I am in a Currier and Ives Christmas card— has been a wonderful experience for fourteen years. 

It has also been challenging. More so now than ever before.

My house overlooks the park in the center of a small town in Vermont along Route 100, not anywhere near a city, a strip mall, or even a suburb for that matter. And I don’t mind. In point of fact, I quite like it.

Here’s why I chose this life:
The town is in the “Heart of the Green Mountains”
Everywhere I look there’s natural beauty
My kids walk to school safely and they know the crossing guard by name (she’s also the Town Clerk)
It’s quiet
Supporting local small businesses is a way of life


I heard a local man say once and I quote, “If you can’t get it here, well then you probably don’t need it.” He’s right. We have everything we need right here (well, except underwear, but that’s another blog for another time.)

This place is my world. Besides living here with my family, I am emotionally invested. I teach here, shop here, play here, read here, write here, volunteer my time here, etc. and this place has been worth my energy. Rochester, VT functions as it has since 1781 without anyone from the outside telling us what to do or utilizing punitive governance against our own best interests, deciding for us.

UNTIL NOW.

The way I see it, the state is punishing all rural towns who do not comply with legislation created to protect us from ourselves. Wait. What? Seriously. AND they are masking it to look like they are supporting our rural way of life.

We may be a bit of a distance from the “rest of the world” but we have each other to cling to. It keeps us warm. Plowed. Mowed. Fed. Educated. And most of all, above everything else, we have local control.  

Not anymore.

I’ll come right out and say it: the lifestyle I have chosen in rural Vermont is on life support and I am powerless to save it.

I am powerless to stop what Act 46 has set into motion. I won’t go into what Act 46 is, but feel free to click the link to educate yourself.

Here is a part of the law I can get behind:
“Vermont recognizes the important role that a small school plays in the social and educational fabrics of its community.” Act 46

However, the next sentence continues and I respectfully DISAGREE: “It is not the State’s intent to close its small schools, but rather to ensure that those school have the opportunity to enjoy the expanded educational opportunities and economies of scale that are available to schools within larger, more flexible governance models.” Act 46

Here is my translation:
“We at the state level see how CHARMING it is that you shop at your local hardware store and buy Vermont coffee at your local cafe owned by your neighbors.”

However it goes on to say:
“We do not intend to destroy your small towns, but rather we want you to be able to buy nails and screws at Home Depot or coffee at Starbucks because of the economy of scale that exists when giant box stores can buy things in bulk.”

I’ve been through this before and I have seen how the other side lives. I have taught large groups of children. When I moved to VT from AZ, I went from teaching (rather air-traffic controlling) 30-35 kids to TEACHING 12 kids.

I was the final teacher to teach in a 209 year old two-room schoolhouse In Hancock: (The Story NPR ) when Act 68 forced that closure. And before that, Act 60 was the state’s attempt to solve everyone’s problems for them.

Frankly, our legislature has forced our beautiful state into hospice care. The “Study Committee” that was formed by our school district under the state’s direction and guidance is acting as palliative care for the townspeople.

My town that has managed to maintain its quintessential, pastoral and independent way of life is now being coerced and punished for being quintessential, pastoral and independent. I predict that in time we will be like every other city, suburb, strip mall and so forth because it is cheaper.  

I am voting NO on Tuesday for the School Merger and I stand on my platform of knowledge and experience and openly share with you. Is our way of life worth it? We need other options besides Model One but most importantly, WE need to decide. Not the WRVSU (Supervisory Union) or the legislature.

US. The people of Rochester

#ParkTV As I See Things (Six) Snow Makes Me Feel Like I have Synesthesia

  Based on the smell in the air last night, I knew snow would sneak in while I slept.  An incoming storm smells damp and cold and shiny...