If you work for a newspaper or magazine and would like to discuss contracting with Mindy to write a feature, please contact her.
The Boston Globe, August 14, 2011
Housing market complicates empty nesters' plans to downsize
Laurie and Chris Ying of Lexington began
thinking about selling their four-bedroom home after their daughter left
for college in 2005. When they couldn't find a suitable smaller home,
they decided to renovate and wait.
The Boston Globe, May 15, 2011
After the last of their two adult children
moved out, Karen and Keith Percival contemplated selling their colonial
on an acre of land in Topsfield and buying something smaller.
Then they went on vacation, renting a five-room ranch in Maine. Unexpectedly, the small vacation home solidified their plans. They wanted something just like that but back home — a smaller, single-family house on a smaller lot. Karen called her real estate agent. “That’s it, put the house on the market,’’ she said
“Friends kept telling us, ‘Go condo,’ but, no, I like the outdoors. We are gardeners. I want to mow the lawn. I want to stick the bird feeder out. I want a place for the dog to be out in the yard,’’ she said. “I don’t want to be bound by any rules, anyone telling me I can’t have a clothesline in my backyard or can’t plant here because it’s not your property.’’ Nor did they want to pay condo fees.
While many homeowners downsize to condos or over-55 communities — often to lighten the amount of yard work or reside in communities with neighbors their age — others, like the Percivals (Karen is 54, Keith 59) prefer single-family living. Many are still-working baby boomers who consider a move to a smaller house to be more of a transition than a place to retire. But they are also finding that these homes are not always as easy to come by as condos, without a bit of compromise. For the Percivals, most new construction was too large, and older, smaller houses required too much updating or upkeep — exactly what they were avoiding.
Most folks who downsize to single-family homes primarily find older homes, said Laurie Cadigan, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.
“Builders are not building to their requirements because of the cost of land in most communities,’’ she said. Developers thought the 55-and-older developments would capture the 55-to-65-year-old age group, she said, but a large percentage are not ready for such communities, preferring their own space while wanting to simplify.
To the Percivals’ surprise, their dream home surfaced when they broadened their search to surrounding towns. They found a new contemporary Cape on just under two-thirds of an acre in a well-established Groveland neighborhood. It has an open lower-floor plan, three upstairs bedrooms, two-car garage, basement, and close commute to work.
Karon and Bob Tombari of Hanover are also preparing for life in the empty nest. Their goal is to save money on house maintenance, yard expenses, and the high taxes on their 4,000-square-foot colonial with an in-ground pool.
“We’re trying to downsize and put some money in the bank to pay for tuition, travel more, and not be housebound with big mortgage payments,’’ said Bob, 57. “We want a simpler lifestyle.’’
“We can survive and live comfortably in 1,800 to 2,000 square feet,’’ said Karon, 51. “It will make the home cozier.’’
They’re in pursuit of a three-bedroom
single-family home near the ocean, focusing on Scituate, Marshfield, and
Plymouth. Bob, an attorney in Hanover, is open to a condo. Karon is not.
They’ve looked at ranches, antique
farmhouses, and Capes, but so far nothing has been quite right.
“At 65, we’ll see what the crystal ball has in store for us,’’ he said, contemplating a home someday in the South.
The Tombaris are prepared for personalizing
the home with light cosmetic work and perhaps updating a kitchen, while
limiting repairs to well under $100,000.
“By coming in and doing that work, I feel like I have a little dollhouse for myself,’’ said Sullivan, 63. A real estate agent, she caught the listing the day it came on, but she knows finding the right home isn’t always easy.
Marybeth Mills Muldowney of TradeWinds Realty Group, the Tombaris’ real estate agent, said inventory is available but sometimes of a different caliber than the client’s existing home. People need to determine their true goals and begin to envision themselves in the new surroundings, she said. “It’s a matter of adjustment.’’
The Boston Globe, May 15, 2011
They’re game for playing
Neither stitches, a dislocated finger, nor chronic back problems has stopped Bob Fierman, 61, from playing organized basketball twice a week for years in the over-50 league at the Newton Jewish Community Center.
Jim Kaloyanides, also 61, has suffered a torn rotator cuff, torn Achilles, and endless pulled muscles while playing for more that two decades in the New England Over the Hill soccer league. In spite of it all, he said he’s still competitive and loves to win — “but it’s more about playing as hard as you can and having a really good time.’’
Jill Hitschler and Sally Kuhn, both 68, won the United States Tennis Association 2009 Nationals 3.0 Senior Ladies 50-plus players tournament. Now they compete weekly against women of all ages in the North Shore Tennis League.
These folks are among the hordes of fit seniors staying active not only by walking, biking, and weightlifting but by pursuing organized sports to keep competitive, fit, social, and even relaxed. Some played when younger. Others took it up after coaching or watching their children.
“Our 50-plus players are a whole different player than they were in the last 15 years,’’ said Heather Anastos, director of competitive tennis for the United States Tennis Association. “They’re fit, they’re active, and they start to look better. Physical fitness is a key factor. And the camaraderie is great — when people are happy and they’re social, it really makes a difference to their disposition.’’
Despite the injuries they may sustain, they play on.
“You can’t play this long and not have some injuries,’’ said Fierman, a Cambridge attorney. “When I hit 40, I thought, ‘Let me keep playing to 45.’ Then I said, ‘Thank you, God,’ and hoped I’d play until 50. Then I hit 55. It’s crazy — I’ve been playing longer than I ever thought I would. There are guys in our leagues who’ve played college ball and some who’ve probably never played. Age is a great equalizer. When you’re older and slower, you can all compete together.’’
Kaloyanides, who plays on Medford’s over-58 soccer team, was out for half of the season with an injury one year, but as soon as he healed he was back in the game.
“It’s great exercise and great camaraderie, and it’s definitely stress release,’’ said Kaloyanides, who recently stepped down as president of New England Coffee Co.
Alec Goodman, 55, who played high school and college soccer, hadn’t played for more than 25 years before he joined the Lexington Golden Eagles.
“It’s taken a while to get it back,’’ he said. “I’m starting to get the feel of the feet, but I’m a little frustrated. Things I used to be able to do — there’s the age factor in not doing it for so long.’’ In fact, he’s already been sidelined this season with tendinitis.
His teammate Ralph Gants, 56, a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice, has been playing for several years.
“The first year’s pretty ugly,’’ Gants said. “I managed to tear both hamstrings and pulled a calf muscle, but everything’s been twisted and pulled and stretched out now. Most everyone who’s been injured comes back, even the folks who say they won’t.’’
The Boston Globe, May 7, 2011
Not Too Late For Love
Sylvia Glickman sits on a pale yellow couch in her Newton apartment next to her husband of nine years, their hands intertwined, her silver hair framing her face. She smiles wide and glows like a new bride when speaking of finding true love for the first time with her “much younger’’ husband, Nat Butner, 81. Sylvia is 90.
“I didn’t expect to get married when I came here,’’ she said of Golda Meir House, managed by Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, where they live. “I thought I’d give it a couple of years then go ‘down under.’ I couldn’t ask for anything better. He’s a wonderful man.’’
Butner, a retired US Post Office clerk whose first long marriage ended in separation not long before his wife died, gushes over his bride. “From the time we met,’’ he said, “to me it was like I didn’t know anyone else but Sylvia.’’ He writes her daily love letters.
Sylvia received marriage offers when she was younger but chose to focus instead on her social-work career. “You’re lucky if you find someone that you really love at this stage in life,’’ she said.
“This stage of life’’ is the so-called golden years, and Glickman and Butner, who met in their building, are just one example of local couples proving that, as the song says, it’s never too late to fall in love again.
That said, when talking about finding a new relationship at the age of 65 and older, a variety of issues can loom. Many people are dating again only after a spouse has died. And grown children may be uneasy about an elderly parent who’s looking to make a love connection. Of course, not all single seniors want to partner up, and not all who do find someone new to love. According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 16 million Americans age 65 and older are unmarried, with the pool of men diminishing the older one gets, since women tend to outlive men. (Male life expectancy in the United States is about 75.5 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For women, it’s approximately 80.5 years.)
But for those who do desire a relationship, opportunities are there, according to AARP’s love and relation ships expert, Dr. Pepper Schwartz.
“It’s common if you go and try and find it,’’ she said of elderly couples partnering up. “It’s not as common if you wait for it to jump out and land on your doorstep.’’
As evidence, she points to the “enormous pairing going on in nursing homes and senior living environments’’ and to statistics demonstrating that seniors use the Internet more each year, including online dating sites. (None contacted produced any late-in-life pairs in this area.)
Still, some women worry that a man of a certain age only wants a woman to cook, and some men reveal that the first question they’re asked on a date is: “Do you still drive?’’ In fact, that’s how Glickman and Butner met, when she needed a ride and Golda Meir House matched her up with Nat, who’s still driving.
Most couples we contacted say that the old-fashioned ways to find a mate remain most common: converting an acquaintance or friendship into romance; reconnecting with an earlier love; being introduced by a friend; or serendipity. Others met at dance socials, work, or religious or town organizations.
Going public with their new love can be a challenge, however, and some prefer to protect adult children saddened by parental loss or unable to bear thoughts of Mom or Dad involved in a new romance. And then there’s the dastardly issue of the will. Now that Mom or Dad has found new love, will the kids get frozen out?
“Children are jealous,’’ said Frederick Williams, 82, of North Andover, widowed in 1991 after 42 years of marriage. A lifelong musician, he married Augusta Williams, 70, 10 years ago. They met through a mutual friend, and his three adult children have struggled to accept his marriage, he says.
“You have to be able to separate the different loves — your wife is your most sacred part of your life. If you’ve raised children well, your job is done. The children may try to hold her in low esteem, but you have to be diplomatic about that,’’ said Fred, a romantic who buys his wife flowers every month on the date they met.
Augusta, divorced three times from “stormy marriages’’ and then single for decades, suspects that Fred’s children assumed she was a “gold digger,’’ because she owned jewelry and furs before the marriage, and, admittedly, loves to shop. “They don’t really know me,’’ says Augusta, a gentle, quiet-spoken former nurse and longtime breast cancer survivor. Meanwhile, her adult son is close to Fred and calls him “Dad.’’
According to AARP’s Schwartz, adult children are often uncomfortable with mom and dad “dating.’’ Since the will is often at issue, she says, couples should assure children that it is intact, if that’s the case. “Maybe you want to give this new person something, maybe you don’t, or maybe you should do a prenup,’’ Schwartz said.
“You don’t have to be one big happy family,’’ she continued, but couples “have a right to love, passion, companionship, whatever it is they want. The children don’t have the right to make them miserable.’’
Some adult children are happy with a parent’s new relationship, particularly because the parent is no longer alone — or calling with daily woes.
Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington was happy when her mother found love years after her father died.
“I was thrilled, because my mother was much happier and wasn’t alone,’’ she says about her mother marrying a longtime family lawyer and good friend 16 years ago, 17 years after her father died. In fact, Rabbi Abramson performed the marriage ceremony. “It was a really bizarre out-of-body experience,’’ she recalled. “Very strange, but good.’’
As with any relationship, companionship and common interests are major factors in late-in-life relationships. John Dodge, 87, and Connie Donovan Dodge, 86, married nine years ago after his wife of 49 years died of Parkinson’s disease. Dodge, a graphic artist who still runs Dodge Art, was ready to move from his Bedford home to Gloucester to start over in an artist community. Connie, a successful realtor who had sold both his mother’s and mother-in-law’s houses, took his listing.
A few days later, John asked her to dinner. She’d been content on her own for many years after her first two husbands died, she says. But after a pleasant first date, John invited her to dinner at his home, complete with candles, incense, soft music, and wine. What really attracted her, Connie admits, was when he shared his collections of graphic art and ephemera, including an impressive valentines collection.
“Anybody who has a valentines collection isn’t a bad prospect,’’ Connie said.
The truth is, being appreciated for who you are never gets old.
“Love is companionship,’’ says Butner. “Sylvia doesn’t find fault with me. In 11 years together, our next argument will be our first. She makes me feel like a real man.’’
Sylvia laughs. “You are a real man,’’ she says.
The Boston Globe, June 14, 2009
A Playful Twist
When Nancy Reilly is twisting and shaping
a vine into a bench or an arbor, she takes her cues (as well as her
materials) from nature. The result? "It has a whimsical look," she says,
"as though created by elves."
I am saving that tree," says the trained biologist who also had a career as a nurse. It can take hours to find the right combinations of vines. She drags her finds to her old Dodge Durango.
Reilly, who is 51, came to furniture making recently, and she describes her first, self-taught endeavors as failures. "They became firewood," she reports. After an apprenticeship under Concord artist Jack DeMuth that she used to hone carpentry skills, she began experimenting with bittersweet. It is now central to her work. Reilly labors in her cellar most of the year and in her garage and out of doors in warmer months. Her home functions as her showroom, too; most of her work is designed for indoor use ($300 to $500 for lamps, $500 to $2,500 for tables) but some pieces are three-season, and she makes outdoor arbors ($1,000 to $3,000) and furniture to order.
The Boston Globe, February 2009
Where Compact Equals
They're diminutive, often less than 1,500 square feet. They usually contain one bathroom, or at best one and a half. Most were designed for single-level living with one, or maybe two, bedrooms; any second-level sleeping quarters were afterthoughts carved into the attic. A garage? Doubtful. Yard? Possible, but, if so, limited.
Living in an American bungalow home may not fulfill the American dream for homeowners today who want footprints with mega space, yet those who adore these cool, compact homes cannot imagine living in any other style residence.
Undeniably, the homes fulfill the same need as when they were built in the United States starting in the late 19th century: They suggest simple living, and they feature ornamental designs that delight. They're also more reasonably priced than larger residences, opening up homeownership to those who otherwise might not be able to afford it.
Bungalows were built during "a period when people were saying that I want a less formal life than my mother and grandmother," said Boston University associate professor Claire Dempsey, director of the preservation studies program, who explained that this style of home followed an era of elaborate, gargantuan grande dames.
Pam Martin lives with her two daughters in a 1930s-era bungalow she purchased seven years ago for $387,000 in Melrose after a divorce and vacating a sprawling "McMansion where our hamster had its own bedroom."
For Martin, starting over meant returning to the town she grew up in, a home near family, and simplifying life.
"We call this the dollhouse," she said. "We love it, it's so homey. For me, as a single mother, it worked out perfectly."
Martin's home features such period details as columns, built-in glass cabinets and shelves, wainscoting in the hall, and a front porch.
The upstairs attic, still under renovation, contains two bedrooms, a half bath, and skylights. Downstairs, the family often gathers around the family-room fireplace, and Martin's teenager now claims the downstairs bedroom, but Martin wants it one day. "When my kids are gone I'll have one-floor living," said Martin, an advertising media buyer.
From the front her house "looks tiny, but it's deceiving," she said. Square footage is approximately 2,000.
While "bungalow" is commonly used as a generic word for a small house, that's not necessarily the case, according to Dempsey.
"We know one when we see one," she said, explaining that, like Martin's home, they often contain one or one-and-a-half stories, a big dormer in front sitting over a swooping roof, columns that narrow at the top and broaden at the bottom, use lots of natural materials such as shingles, fieldstone, shaped concrete blocks at the foundation, and have naturalistic indoor/outdoor elements of form.
The most popular bungalow style locally is the Craftsman, from the arts and crafts movement. It features top quality building materials and craftsmanship, space-efficient floor plans with kitchen, dining area, bedroom and bathroom clustered around the living room, which often features a fireplace.
The first American bungalow was built at Monument Beach on Cape Cod in 1879 by William Gibbons Preston. It was not a true bungalow, however, as it rose two stories. In the late 1890s, this style craze spread and could be purchased for a starting price of $900. The trend continued through the 1930s, with bungalows becoming popular in various regions of the country such as Hollywood, Chicago, and the seacoast communities of Massachusetts, sometimes in camp-like clusters as resorts. Some even became available by mail order to be assembled by a local carpenter.
Micki Taylor-Pinney's late father, who purchased their 1920s Lexington home in 1957 for $11,500, did much of the work himself, converting the front porch into part of the living room, and relocating the front door. But then he stopped, leaving Taylor-Pinney and her husband, Marcus Pinney, to finish the job when they bought it in 1986 for $135,000.
"My father was a do-it-yourselfer, so many projects were started but not completed," said Taylor-Pinney, director of dance at Boston University.
The couple redid the bathroom, closed in the entry hall with a French door, added window trims, renovated the kitchen and first-floor bedroom, and modernized the upstairs bedrooms, each time matching the original style.
For just two people, it is the perfect size, Taylor-Pinney said.
"How much room do you need for two people?" she asked, rhetorically. She recalls living there, however, under very different circumstances, growing up with her parents, four siblings, and a dog in the one-bathroom, three-bedroom house of approximately 1,100 square feet. And her parents ran a folk dance business out of the home, with an open-door policy and visitors often staying overnight.
"All with one bathroom on the first floor," laughed Taylor-Pinney.
Carolyn Krasner, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, wasn't even in the market when she bought her 1914 Somerville home five years ago for $500,000. She always adored arts and crafts design, and when she stopped into a realtor open house, it called to her. She sat in the inglenook, a built-in seat next to the massive fieldstone fireplace, until the agents nearly kicked her out.
"This is where I'm meant to be," she said, adding, "Bungalows have always spoken to me; they tend to be smaller, and space is utilized very well, not a lot of hallway space or lost space."
The prior owners also loved the home and preserved the original owner's paperwork: He had constructed the house for $3,500.
Since moving in, Krasner repaired the slate roof and refinished the wood floors of her approximately 1,800-square-foot home, which she described as "spacious but cozy." Hers contains three first-floor bedrooms and two bedrooms on the second floor that have low slanted ceilings.
Krasner admits her favorite reading material is the magazine "American Bungalow." "It's just gorgeous - a lifestyle magazine about bungalows," she said.
"I can't imagine a better house," Krasner said. "Not a day goes by when I don't walk into my house and feel lucky."
Boston Globe Magazine, September 2008
When you enter Ken Dietz's 1845 Victorian in Jamaica Plain, it's not the front door's intricate dentil molding or the beveled oval-shaped glass inset that immediately draw the eye, although both are certainly beautiful. It's Dietz's Hollywood-handsome looks, because - oh, the irony! - this interior designer styled his home office with 007 in mind.
Dietz first moved into his second floor, three-bedroom apartment in 2000 as a renter. Five years later, he bought the property for $859,000. He thought it had "great bones." Former owners had gutted the grande dame in 1935, dividing the single-family home into five apartments and removing such rich architectural details as columns, crown molding, hardwood floors, and original tile work. Dietz invested $60,000 in renovations, including upgrading the downstairs rental unit. His unit underwent a dramatic room-by-room makeover, starting with the 007-style office, which he gutted and began renovating in 2006.
"The place wasn't fully 'me' before; I was just putting Band-Aids on an older home instead of putting my imprint on what I wanted it to be," he says. While the rest of his home doesn't adhere to the James Bond theme, he incorporated teakwood, Murano glass, Lucite, and chrome whenever it suited a room. The idea for the secret agent-style office evolved after a Lucite-and-chrome pendant light caught his eye in The Drawing Room, an antique shop in Newport, Rhode Island. It reminded him of the early '60s and '70s Bond-era style, and he knew instantly that he'd build his office around that aesthetic.
From there, he looked through samples that he and his assistants had collected (they keep records of fabulous fabrics, patterns, or items for future projects). He favored the pop art-inspired designs of English decorator David Hicks, who introduced "pattern on pattern" texturing of concentric circles and lines or squares. With this style in mind, Dietz selected a black, cream, and platinum wall covering, the Trifid pattern from the Vintage collection of Osborne & Little.
Floor to crown, Dietz paneled two of the walls in teak in a grid pattern, allowing for hidden closets and storage. The wood reminded him of "Bond jumping from a teak deck off the yacht in Dr. No," he says. To add to the glamour, Dietz installed two illuminated niches with glass shelves, where he displays pieces from his vast Murano glass collection.
His desk, fashioned from a former Harvard library desk, was found in a Brighton junk shop. He added black lacquer and Lucite drawer pulls and paired it with a smoked Louis Ghost chair from French designer Philippe Starck, and he placed a vintage mercury-glass lamp on the desk for a reading light. He restyled, rebuilt, and reupholstered a slipper chair he found in a local modern-furniture store in the style of designer Milo Baughman, using an off-white Osborne & Little chenille in a biscuit-tufted pattern.
So how does a room with office furnishings evolve into a guest room? Just move the desk and drop down the queen-size Murphy bed. "Bond always gets the girl," says Dietz, "and the bed drops down, the lights dim, and music comes on."
Mindy Pollack-Fusi contributes regularly to the Boston Globe. Send comments to email@example.com.
TO UP THE COOL FACTOR OF YOUR HOME OFFICE, KEN DIETZ SUGGESTS:
* Pick a theme. Think of your space as a palette or stage.
* Surround yourself with things you love, like artwork, furniture, rugs, and accessories that reflect your inner self.
* Even in a small space, consider different lighting patterns. Provide a few different sources of light in the same room - recessed lighting and direct lighting for art, table lamps for working, floor lamps for reading.
* Think big. If you collect strong objects, the walls and furniture should be as strong and important, creating an energetic space. If your taste is more subtle, bring more attention to the room's architectural details and lighten the color palette, allowing for a calming energy.
* Collect your collections - books, art, family photos, memorabilia - into niches and glass cabinets for display. When like items are gathered into well-highlighted areas, they strengthen a space.
* Add allure. Hidden drawers and concealed cabinets can store junk - and secrets.
The Boston Globe, July 2008
Making a leap of faith with a rabbi superhero
Rabbi Susan Abramson doesn't change in telephone booths or fly through the air, but in her mind she transforms into a superhero known as Rabbi Rocketpower. Adorned in blue tights and carting Jewish religious symbols - a tallis for a cape, a yad in one hand, a shofar in the other - Rabbi Rocketpower is the lead character of two books in a children's series written by the Burlington-based spiritual leader.
"Oy vay, up, up and away," Rabbi Rocketpower says in her latest book, "Rabbi Rocketpower in Who Hogged the Hallah? A Shabbat Shabang," published last month.
Abramson was among the first 50 women ordained rabbis in the United States and now is the longest-serving female rabbi in Massachusetts, having served Burlington's Temple Shalom Emeth for 25 years. She began writing the stories when her son, Aaron Dvorkin, now 12, was in first grade. She sought an alternative to the Captain Underpants series, which captivated him, she recalls, yet nothing in Jewish literature grabbed her son's attention.
She wanted to nudge him toward books that would enhance his Jewish identity, but she couldn't find any she liked. Most featured stereotypical Jewish characters. Few were funny. None featured a female rabbi.
"There's nothing in Jewish children's literature that's a modern Jewish family," she said.
So she and Aaron modeled stories after their family. The books feature a rabbi mother who is a superhero, a father who is a computer guru, a clever boy, and a feline full of mishegas. Abramson and her son drafted nearly a dozen stories and shared them with her religious schoolchildren and Aaron's classmates at the Rashi School. They were a big hit.
The road to publication began in 2005, when Abramson's husband - Aaron's father - died of a heart attack.
"I realized life is too short," Abramson said. "After we die, there's no goal - it's the end. I don't mean to be morbid, but we should live every day. Why not pursue your dreams and make the world a better place? The books are my contribution to make Jewish children connect to their Jewish identity in a happy way."
Abramson began listening intently when congregants suggested the stories were worthy of being published. Abramson decided to give it a try, and members of the congregation offered to help. One teenage congregant, Ariel DiOrio, wanted to illustrate the stories. "She kept putting the illustrations in my face," Abramson said, "and they kept getting better and better." Susanna Natti, a children's book illustrator who has worked on the Cam Jansen series of children's books, mentored DiOrio. Fran Landry edited the manuscript. Carol Feltman, who ran a small publishing company, offered to publish the first book, "Rabbi Rocketpower and the Mystery of the Missing Menorahs: A Hanukkah Humdinger." It was a success, and Feltman just published book two, with the plan to roll out as many as Abramson can produce. She also maintains a website, rabbirocketpower.com.
Each story takes on a Jewish holiday, and the rabbi - the writer and the one with superpowers - uses lots of Jewish expressions, shares favorite Jewish recipes, and explains tricky words in a funny glossary.
"Hopefully the reader will not only have a lot of fun reading the books, but without even knowing it, learn many of the customs, traditions, and vocabulary of the holiday," Abramson said. "The philosophy of the Rabbi Rocketpower series is that there are no bad guys, just innocently misguided aliens, and no one gets hurt, just inconvenienced."
Abramson points out that writing is nothing new for her: She has been doing it for 27 years, in the form of sermons and eulogies, mainly aimed at adults. Writing for children, she says, is at least as important.
"If we don't capture Jewish children's imaginations when they're small and give them a wonderful, positive foundation to their Jewish life," she said, "there's a good chance they'll be lost to the community and the future of the Jewish people is really at stake."
The Boston Globe, June 2008
Boston Home, paint heals souls
More than 50 artists from the Boston area produced the 120 paintings, photographs, and collages in the juried show, and 21 of those artists are Boston Home residents with advanced multiple sclerosis and other progressive neurological disorders.
During classes at the Boston Home, most produced their watercolors using extra-large brushes in unsteady hands, and some held brushes in their mouths - the only method they could use to get paint to paper. Many painted on stabilized easels, and a few wore arm slings to help guide their hands toward their art. All sat in wheelchairs.
As important as the end product, the process of painting is an outlet to help residents feel productive and express themselves, many of the Boston Home artists said.
"When I hear a resident tell me that this has given them their soul back, I just want to cry," said teacher Susan Krause, an artist and board member of the Dorchester Arts Collaborative. "During these classes you can practically feel their pride and joy in the process of creating. And the social aspect is also important; it's another way of building community."
Krause teaches watercolor classes in the Boston Home's first-floor lounge three mornings a week for 12 weeks, three times a year. Partially funded by a one-year grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the $8,000- to $10,000-per-year program is seeking additional funding for dedicated art space and year-round classes at the Boston Home, a not-for-profit, specialized care facility for adults with advanced multiple sclerosis and other progressive neurological diseases.
Florence Rawls, the Boston Home's director of community development, established "At Home with the Arts" with inspiration from board member Elizabeth Colburn Moraites, a local artist with MS. Two years ago, Rawls met Krause, an exhibitor at the show, and asked if she would teach a watercolor class. She accepted, and they began with a pilot program for three residents once a week. Participation caught on dramatically, and today, Krause teaches the 21 residents, eight at a time in three weekly 90-minute classes. While some were artists before, many were not.
"A good part of what I do is oversee where they each are in their own process, and if I think they are ready to learn a new technique, I show them how to do something differently," Krause said. "I encourage their growth in any way possible - artistic growth, which leads to their being engaged in life in ways they wouldn't have before."
Among the residents exhibiting next Sunday is Linda Stranieri, 56, who paints by holding a brush in her mouth. She once made her living as a civil engineer, but today she has limited dexterity in her hands. She has lived at the Boston Home for 12 years .
"I never thought I could do this," she said slowly, because speech is difficult for her. During a recent class, she attempted to paint a flower petal, but the movement was too intricate.
"Frustrated," she said, and Kerry Donohue, the home's director of activities, who helps out in class, patiently guided her, suggesting she take a break and work on a different area of the painting.
At another table, resident Jane Hildenberger, 49, a former early-childhood educator, painted a sailboat. She graduated from the Arts Institute in Pittsburgh many years ago and said, "I'd be very unhappy if we didn't have art here."
Eleanor Kasilowicz, 49, who has lived at the Boston Home for 14 years, discovered art there. "I may be disabled and in a wheelchair, but I'm not dead, I still have a life I can lead," said the former intensive care nurse. "The administration here encourages us to maintain our independence for as long as we're able."
Last spring a few residents entered their work in the "At Home with the Arts" event. And last fall, for the first time, the Boston Home was among the sites participating in the Dorchester-wide open studios for the Dorchester Arts Collaborative.
Next Sunday, Krause will be displaying her art alongside that of her students.
"It's so powerful what they're doing," she said. "It's like they have a before and after, and now, with painting, they can have something that gives them another reason to get up in the morning."
The Boston Globe, October 2007
History, Hard Work, and Heart
As dusk neared one evening in the fall of 1989, Jane and Scott Harvey and their two toddlers drove the few miles from their Marlborough home to an old town building that was being demolished, the Alms House. With an eye on their sons, the Harveys loaded bricks from the old house into their trunk, until the car was nearly too low to drive home.
The young family repeated this routine for several weeks, until they had acquired about 2,000 antique bricks.
But this was no clandestine operation: The Harveys had just purchased a dilapidated old home in Holliston and got permission to remove the bricks and use them in the renovation of their entry foyer, kitchen, and outside on the grounds.
"Antique bricks at that time were going for a quarter apiece," recalled Scott Harvey, who back then worked for a high-technology company. Today, he is a grant writer.
The bricks were among hundreds of free or cheap finds they discovered during a decades-long renovation of the rundown 1852 Alfred Bragg home, an antique Colonial farmhouse.
Theirs is a story familiar to many buyers of old, rundown homes: a renovation love story that had its moments of enrapture and obsessions, of tedium and terror, self-doubts and second thoughts, but which they ultimately accomplished with pride.
"You'd walk up the rickety stairs to the second floor and say your Hail Marys," said Jane Harvey. "But we were young and had energy and it's all we could afford."
The end result of nearly two decades of work is a 2,581-square-foot four-bedroom home with three stylish bathrooms, a large designer kitchen, a third-floor playroom, and two offices.
The one-acre grounds include stone walls, walkways, and a patio made of those Alm House bricks, perennial and organic vegetable gardens, composting sheds, and a small greenhouse. Where the stone foundation of an old boot barn once stood is now a fruit-tree orchard.
They purchased the home for $165,000 and then sunk $250,000 more - and countless hours - into it. Having brought the property to this stage, the Harveys are selling it and plan to live by the ocean on Cape Cod, where they have vacationed for years. Asking price is $539,000.
When they first saw the Holliston house, the Harveys rejected it.
The first floor was barely usable, there was only one bathroom, tired plumbing, balky windows and doors, and 6-foot weeds outside. Yet they wanted to live in Holliston for the schools, and on subsequent visits, Scott Harvey, now 50, imagined a beautiful house on lovely grounds.
"It was not livable," his wife recalled. But she trusted her husband, who since adolescence had tackled formidable home renovations at his parents' three-story antique home in Rhode Island.
"I like to work with my hands," he said.
Hearing her husband's concepts, Jane Harvey simply imagined a "big country kitchen one day," but since has admitted that she had no idea of the massive amount of work that lay ahead.
It wasn't an easy place to raise two boys. "It was a junkyard in the back of the house, all trash and dirt. You couldn't play there because it was dangerous," said Christopher, at 18 the younger of the sons and a Providence College freshman.
Both sons helped out through the years. Christopher planted the large lawn. Ryan, now a Bucknell University sophomore, learned to shingle the house at the same age his father did his parent's home.
In the first two years of work, the family lived in just two renovated rooms and an adjacent combined bathroom and kitchen on the second floor.
One day, Jane broke down crying. They needed help restoring the hardwood floors, which had been covered with linoleum and still had sticky black glue coating the wood. The first flooring person they called walked out, saying, "I'm not touching this house." So they covered many of the floors with carpeting.
"Sometimes it was a decision of finances - throw a rug in there for $200 or pay $2,000 for hardwood," she said.
Eventually, they found John Derry in Franklin, who restored the floors, now a beautiful wide knotty pine and narrower dark wood.
In 1992, Scott Harvey took a graduate design class at Harvard University to learn how to rebuild the kitchen he had gutted. He knocked down a porch wall, creating an open seating area. With help from an engineer, he added steel beams to support an interior brick wall, constructed from the Alms House bricks.
The finishing touch was a piece of an old bowling alley lane he found at a yard sale. He paid $100 for it and used it to build a kitchen island.
"As we tried to put this house back together," said Jane Harvey, now 51, "we'd go shopping at old barns and antiquing in Rowley and Vermont mostly."
And on it went: All the walls, ceilings, and electrical and plumbing systems were replaced. They put in new windows, doors, a roof, and gutters. Two years ago, they knocked out a wall and installed French doors leading to a patio.
Jane Harvey took on the outside.
"I didn't even know how to plant a flower back then," she said. She learned to garden organically at Natick Community Organic Farm and is now employed there as an administrator.
She began planting vegetables from seeds, started a perennial garden, learned to divide and transplant mature plants, and with her mother's help, started an orchard with six 3-foot trees that have since grown to 20 feet each and are prolific. At one point, she raised bees and chickens.
"I started growing our own food, making this land useful," she said. "We eat off the land."
Across the street, neighbor Sheila Wolfson observed the work over 16 years. "Jane's always out there gardening, and Scott's always working around the house," she said. "They had a vision and worked hard to achieve it."
The Wolfsons often visit to pick apples, pears, and peaches from the Harvey's orchards. Now empty nesters, the Harveys find that the Holliston house is too big for them. So it's time to move on, time for another family to raise children in the house.
Besides, they've found another one that needs fixing up.
The Boston Globe, July 2007
Hemotologist-oncologist Walt Kagan | Meeting the Minds
During the week, Dr. Walt Kagan heads New England's largest private cancer care network, with 10 community-based cancer care offices across the state.
And then there's the weekend. Whenever he can, Kagan, 57, rides mountain bikes on some of the world's most challenging trails and hikes up dangerous peaks for the thrill of skiing down them. He even used to race a 1969 Porsche -- until his wife made him stop because she constantly worried.
"Everything we do in life has a risk," said Kagan. "I'm not trying to kill myself, I just want to enjoy the wilderness in its purest and most intense fashion. When you're an oncologist, you look at life differently. I've learned from my patients to live life fully."
Under Kagan's leadership, Commonwealth Hematology-Oncology grew from a few offices in the early 1980s to a network of 25 physicians and 12 hospital affiliations. The practice developed one of the first, and now the most widely used, computerized chemotherapy ordering systems to help prevent medication errors. And next month it will begin carrying out Phase II and III clinical trials to bring suburbanites the experimental treatments usually available only at urban teaching hospitals.
"He's a good organizer and good leader," said senior physician Dr. Arthur Skarin, medical director of the Thoracic Cancer Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "He came from an academic background, so he is aware of the importance of doing basic research and running clinical trials to protocols out there in the community."
Kagan arrived at oncology in a circuitous route. After attending Harvard College, he enrolled in a combined MD/PhD program at Cornell University, intending to become a psychiatrist. But several significant events happened along the way: He became fascinated by medicine; two of his aunts and two uncles died of cancer; and Kagan discovered the joys of research.
When the Natick native returned to Boston after graduation, he was committed to doing research, as well as practicing medicine.
"I wanted to do both -- advance the science of cancer care, and take care of people."
He's motivated by the thrill of discovery, he said, of helping even more patients.
"What we know now as the best treatment for cancer isn't the best -- we can do better," he said. "It's a very exciting time in cancer treatment. There are dramatic discoveries. It's almost like watching science fiction, the things we can do today that were unthinkable before -- cancers that melt away under new treatments. But despite rapid advancements, we're not where we want to be, but we're progressing very rapidly, it's very encouraging."
Whenever he can get away Kagan hikes up mountains that are off-limits to all but the most skilled and determined. When he has "earned his turns," as aficionados put it, he skis down. He has skied with Hollywood stunt skiers in places such as Mont Blanc, France, and once rescued a man with the rope and shovel he always carries on his back.
In warmer climates, he mountain bikes, hugging the edge of cliffs, including the Slickrock Trail in Moab, Utah, one of the most challenging biking trails in the world.
His patients warn him to be careful every time he sets off on vacation; many of his past adventures have left him with broken arms, legs or ribs.
"It's just part of the territory for extreme sports," he said.
Office Location: Quincy, for 26 years
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
The Boston Globe, July 2007
Sunset for owners of summer camps
After running a summer camp in Poland Springs, Maine, since 1992, Betsy and Gar Roper faced a succession issue common to older camp owners: getting one of their children or other family member to take over when they move on.
The Ropers' 30-year-old son Kevin, who had worked at the OMNI camp several summers, instead wanted to manage a restaurant the family also owned. Their daughter had other plans, too.
So they wrote to the American Camping Association expressing their interest in selling, and a second letter to a camp director who'd recently sold his camp.
"Word travels fast in camping, through the rumor mill, and before you know it we got calls," said Betsy Roper.
Though they own valuable recreational real estate in the region, the families who run summer camps in New England aren't anxious to cash out to the highest bidder when they retire and see their properties redeveloped into luxury resorts or vacation getaways. Many owners instead would like to keep the camps in the "family," -- their children, other relatives, or former campers for whom the camp experience is integral to their lives.
And apparently it's not hard to find them.
For every privately owned camp for sale, there are about 30 potential buyers available who are interested in keeping them as camps, said Jim Earley, owner of New England Camp Realty in Westwood. Early said most owners would rather sell to other camp owners to continue the camp's mission.
"I've never met a camp director who just wanted to bail out for the top dollar," he said. "Then there's the emotional factor . The owners would hate to see the campfire bulldozed."
Long active in the camping community, Early started his part-time business two decades ago after two New England camps were sold to developers, Camp Tomahawk on Newfound Lake, N.H., and Camp Kehonka in Wolfeboro, N.H.
"It was a sad thing for camping and the environment to lose those locations," he said. "We wanted to see if there weren't camp directors who wanted to buy these kinds of camps."
Indeed, for the Ropers the lure of developer money is trivial compared to the sentimental value OMNI holds for them.
"Summer camp is not the highest and best use of land for the value," said Betsy Roper, "but we were not interested in selling to a developer. We wanted alumni to look back and say, 'OMNI is still there! I went there as a kid!' "
The network delivered for the Ropers. Once word got around, they received a fortuitous call from Sue Goldberg, who was looking at other camps for sale in the area when she heard about OMNI.
"She comes from a vast camping background, and that's what made us comfortable in handing our camp over to her," said Roper, who closed on the sale of OMNI to Goldberg last month.
Like the Ropers, Goldberg has camp life in her blood. She first attended a YMCA camp at age 6 and "worked my way completely up the ranks," she said, eventually to assistant director at a camp in New York.
She met her husband in 1996 at a camp where he was waterfront director. Today, he is a middle school science teacher and her co director at OMNI during summer.
"Our dream as people who've been to camp their whole lives, is to own a camp," she said. "With OMNI, everything just kind of lined up for us. Gar and Betsy are 30 years my senior, but we're cut from the same cloth."
Neither party would disclose the sale price of the business, but the real estate cost alone was $2.2 million.
A string of connections also drew Neal Waldman and his wife Julie into camp ownership. The couple bought Camp Indian Acres for Boys and Camp Forest Acres for Girls in Fryeburg, Maine, three years ago. Waldman is an alumnus of the Indian Acres boys camp, and he too met his wife when the two were 21-year-old camp counselors, she at the girls' camp.
Now returning as owners, he said, is like "coming home to a lifelong dream."
Waldman also co-owns Camp Wekeela in Hartford, Maine, with Geoffrey Newman, who sold him the Fryeburg camps in 2004. One family, the Kraskers, had owned the camps , and Newman bought in when the last of the Krasker s wanted out. Waldman, meanwhile, knew the Kraskers from attending camp all those years, and then met Newman when his children were campers.
So far, Waldman said the first years have been a financial struggle . Real estate taxes are soaring in Maine and are difficult for camps to absorb.
"We hope to make a profit, but right now it's very labor and financially intensive," said Waldman.
There is another alternative besides selling within the camp family or on the open market. CampGroup LLC is a family-owned company that buys and operates camps throughout the Northeast. Started in 1998 by the father and son team of Bruce Zenkel, 73, and Dan Zenkel, 48, now the firm's chief executive, CampGroup has 10 camps in its portfolio.
If a camp is financially sound, Dan Zenkel said, the company keeps original owners on as directors. CampGroup focuses on the business side -- bookkeeping, budgeting, purchasing, legal issues. The company views its role as "relieving the stress" so the former owners can "continue to act as owners," he said.
The Zenkels too camped in their boyhoods. Bruce Zenkel attended Camp Winadu in the Berkshires, which his company now owns. Dan Zenkel attended various camps for nine years.
Still, CampGroup's place in the industry is unsettling to some.
"There's a mixed feeling about them in the camping industry," said Gar Roper, the former OMNI owner. "They're raiders . . . but also sages to some camps that can't survive in today's economy."
A more difficult, and ultimately, failed transition is occurring at Aimhi Lodge, a camp with 22 cottages on 25 acres and nearly a mile of shoreline on Little Sebago Lake in North Windham, Maine, that has been host to generations of family vacationers since the early 1900s.
Stephen Holdtman co-owned the summer camp with his sister, Susan Bennett, for 15 years, taking it over from their mother, who bought Aimhi from her siblings in 1969.
Brother and sister had long assumed Bennett would one day buy the camp, but instead, she chose to retire in 2005.
"I didn't want to be in management anymore," Bennett said, "and I didn't have that kind of money" to buy out her brother.
So Holdtman began pondering whether he and his wife, Kari, whom he met at Aimhi in 1968 when she was a waitress there, might "give it a go," he said. They presented his sister with a "reasonable offer," which Holdtman declined to specify. The couple planned to take out a large mortgage to finance the purchase. But then his sister turned him down.
"Stephen would have been the best person to own it," Bennett acknowledged, "but we had a difference of opinion on the value."
In an emotional letter this winter, Bennett and Holdtman informed camp families that Aimhi was closing. They had decided to list the property for sale with Sotheby's International Real Estate for $7 million, where it remains today. In addition, the April snowstorm that walloped northern New England caused extensive -- and expensive -- damage that "was the straw that broke the camel's back" said Holdtman.
Yet even now, Bennett sounds conflicted about the decision to put the camp up for sale . She said she hopes it will be bought by people who want to retain it as a camp, in part because she lives on the edge of the property and would "hate to live next to a development."
Her brother, too, is trying to reconcile reality with sentiment.
"At almost any time, you could say the real estate is worth so much money, it doesn't make sense to run it as a camp," Holdtman said. "But it's absolutely a labor of love, and it's very sad when it comes to an end."
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
The Associated Press, May 2007
Ambivalence is nothing new on Mother's Day, a century-old mix of sentiment, commercialism
If Mother's Day for you evokes thoughts of overblown commercialism as well as warm, fuzzy feelings for Mom, not only aren't you alone but you're expressing similar frustrations as the holiday's founder a century ago.
Anna Jarvis began working tirelessly back in 1905 to create a government-decreed day for mothers to rest. She envisioned that people would attend church and write notes to Mother, living or deceased.
''It was not a day to go to dinner or buy presents or anything else,'' says Olive Badisman, director of the Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum in Grafton, W.Va.
Jarvis was trying to honor her recently deceased mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, who had founded ''Mothers Day Work Clubs'' to improve health and sanitation conditions and lower children's mortality rates. (Anna Jarvis was one of 11 children, only four of whom made it to adulthood.)
Over the next decade, the Mother's Day campaign caught on, with many influential people joining. One year at her mother's church, Anna Jarvis distributed 500 white carnations _ her mother's favorite flower and one that ''never dies, it just withers,'' says Badisman.
Finally, the 1914 Congress and President Wilson established a day to emphasize women's roles in the family.
To Jarvis' outrage, florists, card and candy companies, and other businesses moved quickly to capitalize on the holiday's moneymaking potential. Jarvis unsuccessfully petitioned them to donate a small percentage of profits back to underprivileged women and children forced to live on ''poor farms.''
''They were making money off of her name and efforts,'' says Badisman, and for the rest of her life, Jarvis worked to de-commercialize and even rescind Mother's Day.
The Boston Globe, January 5, 2006
Two decades ago, when membership stores first began to creep onto the Massachusetts landscape, the concept of paying a fee to enter a store was unheard of. Nowadays, membership warehouse club stores --Costco, BJ's, Sam's Club, and on the West Coast a chain called Smart & Final -- total more than 1,200 locations worldwide with combined annual sales of $93 billion. Customers from all walks of life pay annual fees ranging from $30 to $100 for the privilege of entering these stores, where they find it worth the fee for the value and quality of merchandise, and the one-stop shopping.
Problem is, with bulk shopping here to stay, where are we supposed to store all this stuff sold in packages way larger than the average supermarket items?
Apparently, anywhere and everywhere, as homeowners find solutions to this dilemma by adding shelving units to basements, hallways, and garages; installing cabinets; and spending a lot more than the price of those club memberships to renovate for more storage space.
Mary Kelleher, 50, who downsized from a spacious home to a smaller split-level in Saugus last fall, says she was ''very depressed" leaving behind a large pantry that could hold all of her bulk shopping items. Her kids had nicknamed the pantry ''Costco Jr." for its floor-to-ceiling shelves of groceries and household supplies.
To solve the problem, Kelleher's husband presented her with a ''Costco annex," where five white Formica cabinets line one-and-a-half walls in an otherwise sparsely decorated den.
She admits, ''I don't need all this stuff." But she grew up in a large Italian family, and recalls her mother always shopping. ''She'd buy enough food to last forever. 'You never know what you'll need,' she'd say. I do it now even though it's just me and my husband. I don't know why -- maybe it's comfort, or reminds me of those days."
So what's in her ''Costco annex"?
''Fifty-million rolls of toilet tissue -- enough for my entire neighborhood; 27 rolls of paper towels, 17 jars of peanut butter, cans of tomatoes, cleaning products, stuff that's not gonna go bad," she says, poking fun of herself.
Bob Schlesinger, 46, a contractor with Atlantic Builders in Medfield, says renovations for additional storage have increased enormously in the past several years in response to the way people now shop. ''If I'm doing a kitchen or basement or adding a family room, clients will ask if I can add some space for their bulk warehouse things." Most common, he says, are new pantries, additional shelving, and renovations to closets.
When Joe Reardon, 71, relocated five years ago from Winthrop to an 1820s farmhouse in Bridgton, Maine, he renovated the home and an adjacent barn, where cows, horses, and sheep once lived. With his bulk shopping routine in mind, he transformed the barn into a great room, office, and foyer -- with plenty of storage cabinets and a second freezer.
''Where I live, you don't 'run out' to the store," he says, explaining why he drives his pickup truck 2 1/2 hours to the Costco in Danvers every two to three months to stock up. ''I was so used to the quality (at Costco) that I found it prudent to continue to shop there, but had to plan for it."
He's been bulk shopping since membership stores became popular, selecting Costco because he's partial to their Kirkland brand products and prices. Reardon spends about $450 to $600 on each shopping trip, and to keep the price to no more than that, he says, ''I always eat before I go; if I go there hungry, I overdo it."
Indeed, knowing what you want is key at stores that offer groceries, jewelry, clothing, electronics, and a myriad of home and auto supplies.
While Reardon believes he saves money and time shopping at Costco, he and other bulk shoppers don't seem to care about factoring in the costs of storing the goods.
Linda Felaco, 41, a former Brookline resident who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., is so addicted to shopping at her local Sam's Club that she and her husband purchased a stainless Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator/freezer so they could ''buy those great big trays of meat and freeze the excess," she says.
''I figure it'll pay for itself in about the amount of time the fridge will last," she says tongue-in-cheek.
Then, to cook the Sam's Club food more conveniently, they also purchased a stainless microwave at Sam's. Now, however, the stainless appliances clash with their kitchen's 1930s decor, so they're thinking of remodeling when they can afford it.
''It's a form of insanity if I really admit it, and I'm sure it's not astonishing savings," she says.
Donna and David Medoff of Newton may never see a return on their $2,500 investment in a 3-by-5-foot pantry, complete with a glass pocket door labeled ''pantry," which was part of a major kitchen, den, and dining room renovation that Schlesinger of Atlantic Builders completed for them this year.
But they didn't do it for cost savings. Originally, they designed the pantry -- a space no larger than a closet -- to provide Donna, 41, with ''a room of my own," she says. She even added a tiny granite-topped desk. The cabinets, with pullout draws, were designed to store her office items and arts supplies for the couple's two young children. However, not six months into enjoying the new space, they realized it made more sense to use the pantry for the ''18 boxes of mac and cheese" they buy at BJ's for their children. They now also stock canned goods, snacks, and boxes of cereal.
''We can just step in and everything's right there," says David, 41.
Phyllis Constantino, 40, and husband Phillip, 43, of Melrose found a much cheaper way to store the baking supplies, canned and packaged goods, and fresh vegetables they use for their family each week: They installed wire shelving on both walls of a basement stairway.
''Before, we didn't have the space. Now, I stock up at BJ's and don't have to run out to the local store as much as I used to," she says.
''We did it ourselves," Phyllis adds about the attractive hallway shelving. They also assembled a cabinet for more storage at the bottom of the basement stairs.
When Mona Mondano, 50, grew up in her parents' Lexington house, where she has been living again the past two years, the basement shelves were stocked mostly with books. Today, those same shelves are filled with items from her parents' shopping trips to Costco: large rolls of paper goods, a half-dozen containers of cleaning fluids, massive jars of pickles, and bags of candy.
''These days," says Mondano, ''it looks like a little corner of Stop & Shop."
Joe Reardon's advice for shopping at warehouse clubs:
The Boston Globe, November 12, 2005
At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, the shortest member of the Boston Celtics dunks more times than any of his teammates. But instead of dribbling, he catapults off a mini-trampoline and soars through the air, executing an acrobatic flip en route to the hoop.
Still airborne, he catches the ball from a teammate, slams it, and suspends from the rim while the crowd cheers wildly. Victory again!
However, the score at the TD Banknorth Garden remains the same. For this is team mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, assisted by the Slamrocks dunk team, a circus-like trio of talented gymnasts who perform during timeouts at Celtics home games. Lucky also leads the cheers throughout the games, revving up fans. To Damon Lee Blust, who morphs into Lucky at game time -- wearing black velvet knickers, gold vest, bow tie, and bowler, all plastered with green shamrocks -- the mascot's name perfectly captures his feelings about his job.
''I wake up every day, look at my watch, and say, 'It's real,'" says Blust, now in his third season with the Celtics. At 30 years old -- yet looking far younger -- Blust did not come upon this impish job haphazardly. When he was 3, he started doing handstands on the top stairs of his parents' house, and when he frightened his mother, he'd face forward by the edge and say, ''Look, Ma, even scarier!"
''My mother said, 'This kid's gonna kill himself; I've gotta get him some formal training,' " he says, revealing an easy, warm smile and twinkling blue eyes.
She enrolled him in gymnastics classes at the YMCA in his hometown of Lancaster, Pa. Excelling quickly, he soon switched to a privately owned gym. By age 7, he began competing, and at 9, Blust made his first of what would become many newspaper headlines, winning his first all-around title in the United States Gymnastics Federation state championship. He would go on to win 10 more times and once came in third place in the federation's East Coast Region 7 championships.
At ages 11 and 13, he was one of the top 50 young gymnasts in the country selected to train at the United States Olympic Training Center.
Then something happened to the award-winning gymnast. Hormones. Girls. Rebellion. He wanted to spend less time around gyms and more time being a regular teenager, he says. He got a girl-friend and started attending more parties and fewer gymnastics practices. The other athletes edged past him for the top spots and, ultimately, he lost his chances for a full gymnastics scholarship to college. He also lost his ticket to the Olympics. His gymnastics career had, as he puts it, tumbled. ''No pun intended," he says, the devilish smile surfacing again.
After a few foundering years, Blust righted himself by coaching competitive cheerleading, dabbling in college, and working as an engineering surveyor. Finally, at age 21, he tried out for and won a job with the Bud Light Daredevils, a slam-dunk acrobatic team that performs all over the world. And he never looked back.
''Once I got the job with the Daredevils, I knew I could go on to be a mascot," he says, recalling the moment he came upon a new goal. Problem was, he'd selected ''a profession as difficult to land as an Olympic gymnast," he says.
What helped propel Blust, he says, were inherited traits. He's as driven as his mom, Linda, a former professional ice skater with the Ice Follies and Ice Capades, and as passionate as his dad, Gerry, a former semipro football player.
After about two years with the Daredevils, Blust left to work as a mascot for several teams: the Harlem Globetrotters (as Globie); the University of Memphis men's and women's basketball teams (Scratch); the Indiana Firebirds, an Arena Football League team (Spike); the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team (Rowdy); and a brief period with the minor league hockey club the Philadelphia Phantoms (Phlex).
He finally achieved his dream job -- one that would feature his gymnastics background -- when a boyhood gymnastics friend, now the Philadelphia 76ers mascot, told him about the Celtics opening. While Lucky had been a Celtics icon for over 50 years in a Leprechaun costume, the Celtics organization had a new plan for the 2003-04 season: an unmasked character who dazzles fans with acrobatic dunks. The job had Damon Lee Blust written all over it.
First on videotape and then in person, Blust demonstrated his remarkable athletic skills and high-energy style, and he soon secured the job, starting part time as mascot. His job, now full time, now also involves coordinating the mascot program.
Rich Gotham, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Celtics, says ''Lucky has proven to be very popular, particularly with young fans. He's been a valuable part of the Celtics' efforts to entertain and connect with fans, both in the arena on game nights and in the community."
Blust, who lives in Newton, and his Slamrocks practice their flips, twists, and dunks several days a week in a gym at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (one Slamrock is a graduate of MIT and was on the gymnastics team). The goal is to take ''acrobatic dunking to a level no one's ever taken it," Blust says. ''I want to be the Larry Bird of my era."
He certainly pushes himself like the Celtics legend. As a gymnast, Blust once scored a 9.9 from a judge, but he always wanted to achieve the perfect 10. The first time he performed at a Celtics game, he felt he'd done so well that ''I'd finally gotten my 10, and it just happened to be jumping off the mini-trampoline at a basketball game."
To stay in shape, Blust lifts weights and does cardio workouts four or five times a week when not performing at games. As part of his job, he does dunking demonstrations or attends community events, and he participates in the Celtics' ''Read to Achieve" program and other public-service activities. Lucky also makes ''select" appearances on request and has his own ''Land of Lucky" webpage (www.nba.com/celtics/mascot).
Among his many young fans, questions about the players often come up. Yes, they're nice. Yes, they're cool. They're regular guys. And, Blust adds, ''They're as amazed at what I do as I am at what they do."
The Boston Globe, May 5, 2005
The Look: The Prom King; His Prom Dresses Stand Out
It's the start of prom season when teenage girls begin scouring department stores in search of the ideal dress. Most want something that reveals a little cleavage, flatters the shape, and complements skin tones. But imagine going through the trouble of finding the perfect dress only to enter the ballroom wearing the same one as your archenemy?
Some girls don't have to face that possibility: they are lucky enough to have Shawn Reddy to turn to for a one-of-a-kind prom dress. This 17-year-old Newton North High School senior, who has been obsessed with designing women's fashions since middle school and aspires to be a famous fashion designer, is now completing seven original prom gowns and one semi-formal dress for his classmates.
"He's just amazing," says Darla Courtney, 17, a senior at Newton North, as are all the dress recipients. "I know it will turn out great because everything he makes is really hot." Her dress, still on Reddy's fitting mannequin, is black satin draped with a sheer purple fabric. It is full length and backless. "It fits to my body, so what can be better than that?" she adds.
Each dress takes about 10 hours to design, fit, and sew, he says, and although he's making the dresses free for these friends, he's willing to be commissioned by others.
This venture began when a close friend, marveling over scores of outfits Reddy created for a course last summer, asked him to make her prom dress. When word got around, others asked him to make theirs, too.
"Of course, I love it."
And so do the beneficiaries. "We had three or four fittings," says Soba Nejatian, 17, about an above-the-knee black deep-V-neck dress Reddy made her. He designed it for casual-wear as well as to dress up for the upcoming semi-formal by adding a "really cool necklace and stiletto heels," she says. Reddy met with her several times to discuss the style and fabric and perform multiple fittings. "It's really beautiful," Nejatian says, beaming. "I never had a dress that fits me so well."
"It's nice to make something they really like that fits their body and is unique," Reddy says, adding that a bonus of his designs, of course, is they won't see it on anyone else.
Reddy's passion for fashion began at age four when he found himself enjoying "matching my socks to my shirt," he recalls. He soon noticed that when meeting new people, he would forget their names "but I remembered what they were wearing."
By seventh grade, he was creating clothes and doing "fashion shoots" of friends modeling his early T-shirt designs. He's also been painting, drawing, and sculpting as long as he can remember, and his fashion "sketches" today are actually complex drawings with expert detail, color, and form.
Still, he recalls the precise moment when there was no turning back to anything but a career in women's fashion design. It was last summer, at a premiere fashion show of 24 of his creations--the final project for a course at Rhode Island School of Design's pre-college program. Reddy says he felt "such a rush" as classmates modeled the clothes he had designed and sewed.
Each of his designs is different from the next: some have lace, ribbon, sequins; some are rock-n-roll edgy. "It's me just experimenting," he says. Many are quite revealing, but tastefully so, with his favorite, so far, a full-length low-cut blue and taupe paisley silk wrap-around prom gown.
In addition to the prom dresses, he is also busy sewing another 30 dresses for an upcoming fashion show held at his parents' home on May 14.
Reddy, who gave up participating in swimming, track, volleyball, and soccer for this avocation-turned-vocation says, "I want to leave Newton with something to remember me by; I want to leave on a big bang."
Come fall, Reddy heads off for Parsons School of Design in New York to study fashion design and further his dream.
So, what will he be wearing to the prom ? "Everyone keeps telling me to make my own tux, but it's too much work. It'd be better to just get one instead of having to make it."
But Reddy is making the dress his date will wear.
The Boston Globe, April 10, 2005
Memory and amenities serve family camps
What motivated a Connecticut woman to attend family reunions at a camp on Little Sebago Lake for nearly 60 years, including two years ago when she turned 100 and conceded to navigating the rugged grounds in a golf cart?
Why does a high-powered lawyer at one of the nation's top 10 corporations leave his job in Connecticut for one week to spend time at the same family camp, where the knotty pine cabins have no phones or television sets, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served family style?
What's so special about this place that Carol Luers Eyman, 48, of Nashua, N.H., reveals, ''I want my ashes scattered there."
Aimhi Lodge dock. Photo by Steve Fusi.
This is summer camp at its best, where lakeside cottages with screened porches nearly lap the lake, young waiters and waitresses serve community-style meals on long tables in a central lodge, and multigeneration families return the same week, year after year, to enjoy unspoiled nature, myriad camp activities, and reuniting with family and friends.
What, exactly, is the draw?
Perhaps it's the smell of the pines, evoking childhood memories of camp. Or the lure of the loons that serenade campers to sleep. Maybe it's the supervised children's activities that entice parents to relax or kayak on the lake. Or waking to warm pancakes made with Maine blueberries and enjoying lobster clambakes on the beach. Possibly, it's the bond created with others who return year after year after year.
''It's all of that, plus a family tradition," says Kathy Denniston who lives in Duxbury and Fairfield, Conn., referring to Aimhi Lodge (pronounced AIM-high). The camp, with 22 lakeside cottages, is run by the third generation of owners, Susan Bennett and Stephen Holdtman. Holdtman's uncle and grandfather founded Aimhi in 1919 as a place for Harvard College students to study away from the university environment. A few years later, they turned it into a family camp, and the lunch wagon from long ago still appears on the beach every day to serve up a hearty meal.
Denniston, 54, and her husband, Brackett Denniston III, 57, general counsel at General Electric Co., discovered Aimhi 22 years ago and ''fell in love with it," she says. They have missed only one year since. Their three children, now 23, 21, and 18, ''learned to swim there," she says.
It also forced her husband to work less, a benefit for the entire family. Through the years, even as assistant US attorney for white-collar crime in Boston, and, later, legal counsel to Governor Weld, he managed to get away from work for the week.
''The Federal Express truck came down the dirt road a couple of times a day for him," Denniston recalls, but it still gave him ''a chance to get away without phones and just sort of commune with nature and his family. And there's no cooking and cleaning for me."
For Hilda Standish, 102, now ailing and unable to attend family reunions at Aimhi, her many decades at the camp made for ''treasured memories in a beautiful, informal, and friendly setting," says her oldest child, Nancy Standish Kline, 67, of Medford, Ore., who first visited Aimhi when she was 9. She continued coming for 20 years until summer jobs conflicted. After her father died in 1987, the family reestablished the tradition. Their largest reunion one summer included ''32 of us."
As for Eyman, her family's camp experience began when her parents honeymooned at Aimhi in 1953, then brought the family back each summer for decades.
''It's an integral part of my childhood," Eyman says.
''We all love the fact that change comes very slowly to Aimhi, and even someone away from it for 40 or 50 years feels right at home again. Details like the pine cone stenciled on a lamp on the wall in the cabin I stayed in when I was 9, which is still on that lamp, or the precise spot on the beach where the water goes over my head, or the angle of the dock where a snake startled me when I was 5, still bring me back to those times."
Only a handful of New England camps are devoted to family camping and stay open all summer, as Aimhi does. Others offer family camp weeks only before or after children's summer camps.
Those open all summer offer similar experiences, according to families who attended those camps. The differences are subtle: bathrooms in cabins, or not; meals shared with others, or at private tables; supervised activities for children half-day, all-day, or not at all; lakefront cabins or wooded locations; quality, quantity, and selection of food; location and proximity to home; and, of course, price.
A stone's throw from Aimhi is Migis Lodge on Big Sebago Lake, a luxurious family camp for those with exclusive tastes. Starting at more than twice the cost of the others, its facilities are more formal, and lunch and dinner offer gourmet private dining without children. In addition to standard water and land sports, and a golf course minutes away, activities at Migis include outdoor aerobic equipment, daily body and movement courses, and massage and spa therapies, some for an extra fee.
Denniston dined there once while staying at Aimhi.
''It's really beautiful, but you have to wear a jacket to dinner," she says. ''All around, it's more formal, and we like that Aimhi is a casual environment where you never have to get out of your shorts, and it's noncompetitive." She then adds with a laugh, ''Except on the tennis courts."
Perhaps the opposite of Migis is Sandy Island Family Camp run by the YMCA of Greater Boston and located on a private island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Access is only by boat.
With no bathrooms in the 54 cabins, it is most reminiscent perhaps of camps from childhood, particularly for its daylong, jam-packed schedule of activities available to children and adults, together or separately.
Bedford resident Dori White Pulizzi, 40, hadn't been back since her teen years. Last Labor Day, she returned with her husband and three young children.
''So many memories came flooding back when we arrived at the dock," she says. ''After all those years, I think what tickled me most was experiencing the place again through the eyes of our children."
The Pulizzis booked their stay with friends who plan to accompany them again this year, despite wishing there were toilets in the cabins.
''Sandy isn't a place that beckons to the 'see and be seen' crowd," Pulizzi says. ''It's unpretentious, a rustic getaway where the kids can try their hand at any number of activities."
If activities are the prime factor for selecting a family camp, another affordable option is one of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in New England. Diane Fitzgerald, 39, of Chelmsford, who has two sons, 1 and 8 years old, says, ''It's great for very busy families, because there's always something going on, there's something for everybody, and it's set up so your kids can run wild, supervised by the rangers."
The Ashland Jellystone Park offers swimming, boating, horseshoes, shuffleboard, volleyball, and Hula Hoop contests as well as mini-golf, arcades, hay rides with Yogi Bear, teen dances, and more. However, with space for 260 families to pitch a tent, park a trailer, or stay in rustic or deluxe cabins, it can be crowded.
Whether at a Jellystone Park or any of the family camps in New England, the key seems to be creating lifelong memories, or, as Denniston puts it, ''It's wonderful for a family to have a tradition -- like everyone has a different stuffing for their Thanksgiving turkey -- it makes for happy memories year after year."
The Boston Globe, March 3, 2005
Not all action is onscreen anymore as devices get players off the couch
Twelve-year-old Taryn Peterson can beat any of the older teens on her street in baseball, admits her 14-year-old neighbor, Kevin Johnson. ''The way she swings causes the ball to go crazy, and she hits home runs all the time," he says.
Johnson is not describing a game in the neighborhood cul-de-sac, but a game in a playroom, complete with realistic bat and ball that plug directly into the Petersons' big-screen TV. This is Play TV Baseball by RadicaUSA, which also sells football and snowboarding games complete with leatherlike football and mini-snowboard. They also come with sensing devices that translate player motions into on-screen action.
Radica and Konami, the Japanese company behind Dance Dance Revolution -- or DDR, as it's known to legions of fans ranging from energy-charged young teens to their weight-watching moms -- are in the vanguard of a trend coined ''exergaming" and ''exertainment," active, family-friendly games that combine computer games with human movement, letting users exercise far more than just their thumbs on a game controller. The games make hearts race, not only through imagination but by cardiovascular training. These days the roster of such games includes tennis, bowling, golf, soccer, martial arts, cycling, and more.
With Dance Dance Revolution, one or two players dance to catchy techno tunes, matching the quick-moving arrows on the television screen to the large arrows on game-connected mats under their feet. Staying in sync provides the challenge, and impacts the score. This game involves extreme focus and adept movement. Players pant and sweat after only a few minutes of DDR, which was popular in arcades for years before becoming available for home use on both PlayStation 2 and XBox.
Maddi Stephens, a sixth-grader from North Andover, is a fan, and not because she needs any more exercise: She dances hip hop and jazz at a professional dance studio, and plays tennis and field hockey. ''It really helps me in dance because it helps me move my feet fast," she says. ''And it helps in tennis, keeping my balance in positions that are not normal for me."
The newest software the youngster might want in order to improve her tennis is XaviX Tennis, one of five interactive sports games offered by Japanese manufacturer SSD Co. Ltd. To play, users plug a XavixPORT game controller into their television set, insert a cartridge, and let the games begin! The bigger the screen, the more the players feel they're in the ballpark, at the bowling alley, or on the court, and they say the experience is enhanced by realistic graphics and stereo sound effects.
With tennis, for instance, a player swings a miniature racquet at a simulated tennis ball on the television screen. As the opponent runs to volley it back, the other player sets up for the next shot, and swings again. [Depending upon racquet angle and speed, players ''hit" groundstrokes, lobs, and even serves, while ''playing" on their choice of grass, clay, or hard courts against the system player, or a friend in two-player mode.]
And if tennis isn't their thing, players can choose XaviX Bowling, Baseball, Golf, and even BassFishing. While the latter may not get the heart going fast, like all the others it involves moving a piece of XaviX-supplied equipment, in this case a fishing rod, to control action.
Emerson college junior Andrea Dempsey and three friends pooled their funds to purchase the bowling version after seeing a few demos. Since then, relatives bought her the tennis and baseball games, which she and friends have enjoyed playing, particularly during this long, cold winter.
''With the snow on the ground you can't go out much to play, so you can sit inside and actually move around a little bit and not just sit around," she says.
While tennis is her favorite, she says her boyfriend and her friend's boyfriend prefer the baseball game. ''It's probably the most challenging because you have to get the hand-eye coordination down," she says, adding, ''And the guys think that's the more masculine sport."
When Taryn Peterson, the Bedford ace baseballer, switches to snowboarding, she stands on its manufacturer-supplied snowboard and leans left, right, forward, and back to direct herself down the slopes. Her movements determine whether her virtual self glides, jumps, or even flips.
Taryn's mom, Joan, who purchased Radica's virtual football and baseball for her active family, says the games are ''good for when you're trying to find different things to keep kids -- especially older kids -- busy." She says the snowboarding game requires ''foot motion, balance, and coordination," while football requires some physical skills and lots of ''knowledge of football -- it has actual downs," she says.
After a couple of passes and blitzes with Taryn, Mom was peeling off her sweatshirt. Taryn, who plays soccer, softball, and basketball in school, doesn't call these games a workout, just fun. Still, she and her friends play often, especially ''when we want to do an activity, but it's raining or something outside."
Across town, the Wallace family discovered Sony Eye Toy when it was introduced last year. At the time, one of the gaming websites said it was ''one of the weirdest games of the year," says Mark Wallace, 48, a senior technology director for Qualcomm, whose family enjoys the games. Manya, 12, a seventh-grader and Kenpo karate third-degree junior black belt as well as seasoned soccer player, and Michael, 6, a first-grader who loves just about everything physical, enjoy playing together. His favorite: Kung Fu.
His image appears on the television screen, captured by a tiny motion-sensitive camera resting on top. He chooses his game, his character, and begins. He slashes the air with his arms, jumps and kicks. When his turn is over, his sister adjusts the eye toy beam for her height, chooses her favorite game, Soccer Craze, and begins bouncing the ball off her head. She says she particularly likes the challenges and bonus points. ''It gets harder as you keep moving up, as the points get higher," she explains.
These games are nothing to sneeze at physically. In one game, called Wishy Washy, users get a hearty upper-arm workout as they ''clear" a foggy window with rapid, circular arm motions. The game allows for two-person competition, too.
The original Eye Toy offers 12 games, including its version of a dancing game, Beat Freak. Sony also sells another version, Groove, and it recently rolled out Eye Toy: AntiGrav, which doesn't place the player's image onto the screen but still requires extensive arm movements to manipulate the challenging games.
The Eye Toy camera is now also compatible with DDR Extreme, providing dancers an alternative to the dance pad. With the added dimension of the Eye Toy, DDR involves the arms, not just the feet, and it lets dancers watch themselves on the screen.
Where all these innovations, large and small, will stop is not yet in sight; the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas in January gave plenty of proof that exertainment is just getting started. Just as consumer electronics are blurring the line between computers and home entertainment, they may also be blurring the line between the game room and the gym.
The Boston Globe, February14, 2005
The `Wild' Side Of Mating Rituals
Tallensi and Rendille do it exclusively with each other. Isadoro and PJ do it, too, but they're not monogamous. Ditto for Elvis and Priscilla, which probably comes as no surprise.
Some do it all year round, some wait until spring, or when the climate or food supplies are just right. None do it for love, but to create offspring. Mating is serious stuff among the animals, birds, and even the fish at Franklin Park Zoo. And while the inhabitants don't pay attention to the calendar, they are busy today with their version of what humans across the world are experiencing on Valentine's Day: The mating dance.
While men and women are out selecting the finest chocolates and flowers, "their animal counterparts are digging up bugs and nuts to present to their mates," said Khadija Lum, education program specialist. "A lot of animals bring a gift that says `I'm ready to mate.' "
"Reproductive strategies are different for all of the species," said Dave Caron, tropical forest zookeeper, who led a tour as part of the zoo's weekend program, "Sex and the City: Animal Magnetism in the Heart of Boston." The two-hour program, restricted to those 21 and older, revealed tales about courtship rituals used for impressing mates in the tropical forest.
Tallensi and Rendille are pottos. The very primitive, and monogamous, nocturnal primates with enormous eyes, breed while hanging upside down from a tree, which is odd for the potto, who does "everything else standing up," said Caron.
Isadoro and PJ are ocelots. She emits powerful pheromones when she wants to mate, and just in case she's not exactly clear, "she also gives a blood-curdling scream like "Linda Blair in `The Exorcist,' " said Caron. "It's bigger and wilder than any sound a domestic cat makes."
Elvis and Priscilla are warthogs, which do not stay loyal to one another. But they do stay in family groups, unlike some solitary animals, like ocelots, tigers, and pygmy hippos, who don't really like each other outside of breeding season. "If they cross paths the wrong time of year, it can get ugly," revealed Caron.
The zoo program also taught humans a thing or two about dating from the point of view of the animal kingdom.
Want to attract a mate? Be like the peacock, with the prettiest display of feathers. Want to select the right one? Emulate the moorhens, which prefer short, fat, little mates, because they can better protect the eggs.
Want to flirt? Have a strong pheromone presence like most of the animals, though their version is urine, and even fouler scents. The purpose, not unlike perfume, is for males to detect the location of the females.
Other fun facts: Pygmy hippos, and hippos in general, do most of their breeding in the water. While there is no male at the zoo currently, "We once watched a `water ballet' from the window, or more like two sausages rolling around," said Caron, who admitted the voyeurs feared the animals would smack into the window in the middle of mating.
When alligators mate, they do a water dance, he said. Observers hear gurgling sounds and see vibrations in the water, although the gators don't move at all. With crocodiles, however, more visual displays are apparent, like head splashing and posturing.
The unusual trait of African wild dogs? Females emigrate from group to group, unlike most animal social structures, where the males leave the group after breeding.
Even fish are in the dating game. The 2,000-gallon African cichlid tank is a "big singles market," said Caron, where the males spend all their time protecting their territory and chasing each other down. The females protect their tiny eggs by containing them in their mouths, releasing them only to feed, then sucking them back up at any sign of danger.
During the zoo program, the mandrills, Charlie, Mandy, and son, Woody, seemed like a friendly looking family, but in the wild, when mating is done, another mandrill moves right in. They breed all year long but can only procreate at certain times.
While Woody entertained visitors by doing vine gymnastics and wrapping himself in hay, the father watched impatiently for the evening guests to leave so the lights would go out, and the mother did what appeared to be some very unappealing yoga poses.
"It's not a pretty sight, but it's a great way for the male to know she's ready to breed," Caron explained.
"Reproduction is a huge part of any animal's life," Caron said. "They all strive to pass their genes on; it's very important."
In the wild, some of these males never reach sexual maturity, and some seem unwanted by the females, with wasted genes, he said.
To the contrary, white-crested hornbill males seemed very mature, and a responsible role model. "It's all about building up a bond," Caron said.
When they're ready, the female hornbill goes into a nesting cavity, like a tree or a nesting box at the zoo. After they mate, she helps him "plaster" her in with a mix of old fecal matter, wood, pulp, or clay, with only her beak exposed. She remains there 40 to 100 days hatching and raising the chicks, and he returns to pass her grapes and other food, beak to beak.
The Boston Globe, December 16, 2004
Cooped up in suburbia
BEDFORD -- Every evening, just before former landscape designer Janet Powers, 41, puts her young daughters to bed, she ventures out of her cozy farmhouse to secure the door on her backyard chicken coop. There, the family's four hens settle in for the night in a plywood playhouse that Powers's husband, Chris Yannoni, 44, an environmental civil engineer, converted into a coop when their chickens arrived from an Iowa hatchery last Easter.
"There's something very peaceful about them; it brings you back to a feeling of home," she said. "I don't consider ours like a pet, like dogs and cats, but every night I say 'goodnight girls' and they respond with little cooing sounds. Oh, maybe I do think of them as pets."
Across town, Hans Christen, 17, brings Elsa, one of his pet chickens, to pottery class each week at Lexington Arts and Crafts Society, where Elsa wanders around while the teenagers work their clay into shapes inspired by the hen. At the end of class, Christen picks up Elsa's food and water bowl, cleans up any mess, and heads home to the 1-acre property where he lives with his mother, sister, grandmother, dog, two cats, and the chickens.
Over in Lexington, across from the Battle Green, Molly and Joseph Nye can hardly remember a time when they didn't keep chickens. Not only were chickens part of their own childhoods, but since their sons were ages 3, 4, and 5 (they're now 38, 39, and 40) they've kept chickens whenever they set down roots. Joseph, 68, a Harvard professor who recently retired as dean of the Kennedy School of Government, says they're "not like a dog where you call them and they come. They're not 'lap chickens,' but I feel charitable toward them."
Molly, 65, vice chairwoman of the Museum of Fine Arts Associates, feels differently. She insists that the five hens now residing in the 19th-century shed attached to their farmhouse, and fondly called the Hen-cock Cluck House, are pets.
Chickens as pets? You've got to be kidding!
These three families have not flown their coop, so to speak. Keeping chickens as pets is a growing trend in suburbs nationwide, and in cities like Orlando, Seattle, and Santa Cruz, Calif.
Some say they do it for the fun of it, because chickens have unique personalities. Others do it to control ticks and bugs, which chickens like to ingest. All enjoy the cooing sounds and the fresh eggs. For many, keeping chickens in the yard is reminiscent of home, either real -- a relative's farm, or childhood experiences -- or perceived, such as on the TV show "Lassie," where chickens ran about the backyard.
Paul Boutiette of Sutton sees plenty to like: "Chickens take up less room than a large dog pen, and once you eat a fresh egg, there's no comparison to a store-bought egg. [They're] easy to care for, and there's no vet needed," which is true up to a point: Vets say they don't generally schedule regular visits for their clients who keep chickens.
Boutiette has another reason to be so boosterish. He founded eggcartons.com, which sells new egg cartons to people like himself who keep a few chickens at home and need a place to keep the fresh eggs. Since opening in 2000, he said, he has sold almost 6 million of them. "We now sell almost $1 million in egg cartons each year," he added
Murry McMurray, owner of McMurray Hatchery in Iowa, an 87-year-old family business that ships chicks nationwide, said that this year, his business "is up about 5 to 10 percent of our total, which is fairly significant. We ship almost 2 million birds per year," as pets or layers.
Locally, chicken feed is the largest seller at the Chelmsford Agway store. And while most of their business used to be truckloads for big egg farms, a greater portion today is selling one or two bags at a time to individuals keeping just a few chickens. Some Agway stores sell chicks in the spring.
Dave Erikson, co-owner of Erikson's Grain in Acton, sells them every Easter. "It's been increasing every year, backyard stuff, half a dozen here and there." He said his grain sales are way up, too.
No one interviewed said they eat their chickens. When they stop laying eggs, they remain part of the family. Still, many people have memories, or recollections of family lore, from World War II, when chickens were kept for laying eggs, but when production stopped, they'd be put in the pot for dinner.
"We always had chickens, they were just a part of life," said Joseph Nye. "They were functional. We ate the eggs, then ate them."
Today, he and Molly are pleased that their family of chickens has "come full circle." Not only have their children enjoyed them, but now "the grandchildren love to come collect the eggs." He grimaces, however, when asked about the messy coop. "It's a chore," he said.
At the Christen home, Linda, son Hans, and daughter Samantha, 14, post a pecking order for the week's chicken chores on a chalkboard. The list allocates who will rake the woodchips in the shed they built from a Home Depot kit, keep track of grain, turn on the heat lamp and hotplate to keep the chicks and their water from freezing, and who will locate chickens that wander off.
"Having chickens was something I wanted to do since I was a kid," said Linda, 40, a potter and sociology graduate student at Northeastern University. When Samantha requested them last summer, Linda readily agreed. Hans, first opposed to the idea, "has turned out to be this complete nurturer," Linda said. He once sat Elsa on his lap while watching television to protect her from undesirable rooster attention.
Because rooster-keeping is against Bedford regulations -- rules vary in each town -- they sought to have theirs neutered, but he died on the operating table.
Despite the pain of this loss, Linda agrees with a friend and psychologist who told her that pet chickens help ease life transitions for children. The family purchased the chickens after the parents divorced.
Landscape designer Deb Edinger, 49, also of Bedford, purchased four chickens last Easter for her son, Will, 9, not long after her husband died. "We probably would have gotten the chickens anyway," she said, "but the chickens mean so much to Will, and he's really attached to the rooster."
Edinger found herself in the same dilemma as the Christens: one of the "hens" shipped from McMurray Hatchery was a male, a sporadic occurrence, apparently, since chickens are difficult to "sex," as chicken gender-guessing is called.
The rooster's "a very caring male role model," said Edinger. "He's very strong and powerful, but at the same time very caring. He likes to protect those chickens. If a dog comes around, he's right after him. He flops his wings and charges, attacks. He's very valiant."
Aren't the neighbors' feathers ruffled when they hear the crowing?
"Most of our neighbors like them," she said. Unfortunately, an abutter who meditates every morning complained because the rooster liked to hang out near his house and greet the sunrise with song. In good neighborly fashion, the abutter located a new home for the rooster and one companion chicken -- several towns away. Will is OK with it because they will get two baby chicks come spring.
Other neighbors like the whole scene. Sing Hanson, 62, a digital printmaker who works from home and enjoys the chickens frequenting her backyard, said, "The first time I heard the crowing, it took me right back to Grandma's house on the farm, a moment of open transit back to my past."