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Back in September my uncle died. His daughters had been really marvelous in coming to Mom's memorial service in June so my sisters and all felt that we should go and I thought would be a good chance for Alice to spend time with the cousins on that side of the family, one of whom she hasn't even met, and to see some of the further-flung members of our extended family. Since I do more travel planning than either of my sisters, I went ahead and booked tickets through Expedia for the five of us to fly JetBlue to Raleigh and drive to Lumberton, the ancestral home.

You may have heard of Lumberton--it's the place where Hurricane Matthew flooded the river to 24 feet, closing both I-40 and I-95, trapping people in their homes, leaving the whole place without power or running water. So the memorial service was postponed and there was no reason for us to fly to Raleigh on October 15th.

As soon as I realized this, I called Expedia to cancel the tickets. JetBlue had a special policy in place for people who were affected by the hurricane, but it only applied to travel through October 12th. But, the agent assured me, the airline would give me vouchers for the five tickets, minus a $90 change fee per ticket, and the vouchers would be in my name and I could use them to book flights for whomever I liked, one voucher per ticket. Since we were likely to have to go to Raleigh whenever the memorial service was rescheduled and if not, we fly JetBlue fairly often, this seemed fine to me, although I was bummed about the change fee that would end up costing me $450. But since I knew the tickets were initially non-refundable and I hadn't bought travel insurance, I was pleased with this outcome.

In the meantime, Jason had booked one-way tickets for himself and Alice to fly to Utah right after Christmas (one way because their return travel plans weren't set yet, but last year they lost out on the flight they wanted because Utah is a big skiing destination and by the time he made their arrangements the most convenient flight was sold out). We hadn't heard back from his parents about when Alice should fly home, but we knew when he needed to be back, so I figured I'd use one of the JetBlue vouchers to book his return flight.

On Tuesday, I called Expedia to figure out how to do that. The ticketing agent couldn't figure out how to make it work, so she put me on hold for about 20 minutes and eventually transferred me to her supervisor, who put me on hold a while longer while she called JetBlue, and eventually explained that there had been "agent error" when I cancelled the tickets to Raleigh. Those tickets were non-refundable, so I should not have been told I would qualify for flight credit. But since those were the terms under which I had cancelled our flight and since I'm an Expedia Gold member, they would refund me the full price of the ticket I was rebooking. Why not, I asked, refund me the full amount, so that I wouldn't have to go through this again for each of the other four tickets. No, no, she assured me, she was putting a note in the file and the other tickets would be honored as if I had flight credit, as long as I wasn't changing the names of the travellers. I explained that I was actually very likely to want to do that and asked again if she couldn't just refund the full amount then and she said no, that she was only concerned with the one ticket and it would all be ok the next time, when I should use the special Expedia Gold customer service line to call them. So they refunded me the full price of that ticket and I booked a new ticket for Jason.

Today we got the info we needed to book Alice's return from Seattle at New Year's. So at about 3pm today I called Expedia--the Expedia Gold line this time--and after explaining all of this and sitting on hold while Christina, the agent, consulted first the JetBlue policy and her supervisor was told that their system would not allow them to book an unaccompanied minor ticket using a flight credit and I would need to call JetBlue to see if their system would let them do it. I was dubious, but figured that I would be in a stronger position if I did that, so I called JetBlue and talked with the nicest, friendliest ticketing agent I've gotten in a long time, who apologized for leaving me on hold for so long while she talked to her supervisor and explained that while it did show that I had credit for these flights from Expedia, there was no dollar amount in the system, so they wouldn't be able to use it to rebook Alice's flight, but Expedia totally should be able to. She guessed that what was bollixing up the works was that flight credits can't be applied to fees such as the one for unaccompanied minors, so they'd have to book the ticket with the credit and charge me for the fee. She also gave me a direct Customer Service number that she suggested I use to call Expedia back.

I called back on that number and after the required few minutes on hold, reached Christine, a different ticketing agent who listened to my story, pulled up the file, put me on hold so she could talk to her supervisor, and then told me that the Expedia Gold desk were the ones who could help me, so she transferred me to the Elite Desk. I explained my situation for the fourth time and Matt assured me that he would get it straightened out. He took some more details, tutted over my having been told to call JetBlue, when Christina should have done that herself, and then put me on hold while he talked to his supervisor. When he came back on the line he assured me that it was all worked out and he was putting me through to a ticketing agent who would be able to help me.

When this new agent came on the line, his accent was so thick I could not understand him when he introduced himself. It was so thick, in fact, that I could not track what he was telling me beyond the first few words of each sentence which were "I can't," repeatedly. At this point, dear reader, I confess I lost my temper a bit. He was very patient with me and eventually explained that he was going to call JetBlue and his supervisor and figure out what could be done. With reluctance, but determination to see this through, I agreed to stay on hold and noted the time: 5:42pm.

I sat on hold, during which time I cleaned my desk and caught up on some bookkeeping tasks. Eventually Jason went out to get pizza (we'd been planning to attend the dinner at church for which I had spent two hours earlier in the day chopping nine heads of cauliflower, a dozen cucumbers, and a handful of radishes, but Alice had developed a fever that kept us home for the evening) and I made salad and we were most of the way through dinner when, at 6:39pm, the Expedia guy picked the line back up to say that he was almost done, just had to check one more thing and he'd get back to me. We finished dinner and were in the midst of unloading and reloading the dishwasher when he picked up again to explain that my tickets were non-refundable and I never actually had flight credit from JetBlue, but due to acknowledged agent error, Expedia was willing to refund me the entire amount of the original itinerary, minus the one ticket that had previously been refunded. Why, I asked, didn't they do that on Tuesday and he said, with an expressive sigh, that he was equally mystified and had written stern notes to require additional coaching for both the original ticketing agent and the supervisor from Tuesday, so that they could avoid this type of mistake in the future. He verified my email address for the refund notification, asked if there were anything else he could do to help me today and wished me a pleasant evening at 7:11pm.

Five agents, plus various supervisors and uber-bosses and JetBlue agents and supervisors, and four hours of my time (not counting the time when I cancelled the tickets, or the time I put in on Tuesday) and in the end...I have exactly what I wanted, which was not to go to Raleigh on October 15th and to have every penny I had paid refunded to me.

So, y'know, ok.
lillibet: (Default)
Theatre@First's exciting fall season continues with STOP KISS, one of my favorite contemporary scripts. [ profile] desireearmfeldt is directing a cast of newcomers and it's a sweet and lovely show--yes, there's a hate crime in the middle of it, but it's really much more about the relationship between these two young women. Come see what I mean!

Theatre@First is proud to present

written by Diana Son
directed by Andrea Humez

It's the 1990's in New York City. Sara is starting a new life while Callie is stuck in a rut. Their friendship leads them to explore new possibilities and ultimately to romance. But when their first date is interrupted by tragedy, Callie must decide how big a commitment she's willing to make.

Friday, September 23 - 8 PM
Saturday, September 24 - 8 PM (Special Event!)
Sunday, September 25 - 8 PM
Thursday, September 29 - 8 PM
Friday, September 30 - 8 PM
Saturday, October 1 - 4 PM (Matinee Show)

6 William St, Somerville 02144

$15 Adults/$12 Students & Seniors

SPECIAL EVENT - Saturday, Sept 24th - Post-Show Q&A
Kareem Khubchandani, the Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor of Drama, Dance, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Tufts University, will be leading a Q&A session after the performance. Khubchandani holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and previously served as the inaugural Embrey Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research and teaching interests include dance studies, queer nightlife, South Asian diaspora, global queer politics, performance ethnography, critical race studies, masculinity and femininity, and drag. Join us for a thought-provoking and wide-ranging conversation!
lillibet: (Default)
Here is the song that David Wilcox created for me at Hanna's Close on the misty morning of August 19th.

Caught here
Caught in this idea
That I'm catching myself
I see you with your newfound good fortune
And I'm left up on the shelf

I looked at that blessing
I looked at your easy windfall
And I said, like that second-grade teacher,
Did you bring enough to share with all?

How dare you taste the sweetness while I'm bitter?
How dare you taste the life when I'm ashamed?
How dare you find a shortcut when I'm walking alone and feeling estranged?
How dare you find your way home?
How dare you find your way home?

So I feel this politeness
And I feel it in the air
And I feel the way you were frozen
For pretending we don't care
And I feel the way we hold ourselves separate
As if there's no chance for this
To open to the bounty and the beauty of the endless bliss

So I catch myself frozen
I catch myself reacting in fear
There's a bounty happening right over there
But I'm left way over here

And I know it's the same trap
When I'm afraid to say what I've found
Cause I sense there may be anger
That there's not enough to go around

But both of these are fictions
And I know it at the end of my day
When I suddenly have this wisdom
And I hear someone what someone is always saying, saying...

Open if you can
Ally-ally in-free
You're not all alone
Open if you can
The way that leads you home

Home inside of your own story
In the language of your native tongue
Maybe not all can understand it
But it whispers the secrets that you've known
And it silently opens the way that brings you home.

So I know when I'm feeling this jealousy
For the blessing you found yourself in
I know it's just the shadow of the same trap
I so willingly step in.

And I'm ashamed to share my wonder
Cause I'm afraid of those who may hurt
And I know eventually that same trap will slowly turn
And offer me that same deadend
Offer me that same cul-de-sac
Offer me that same way of thinking
That always is the same old trap.

So now I know that my only way through
Is to celebrate the things you do
That the only way to get there is to untie that knot
That keeps me from feeling that I have it, too
I have my own way through.
lillibet: (Default)
In May I attended a David Wilcox show. I've been a big fan since 1990, but hadn't seen him for a while. But when I heard he was playing at a pub two blocks from my house it seemed churlish not to show up. B. and I had a great time and I got to stand on stage holding my phone where he could see the lyrics for one of his older songs. He mentioned that he would be co-leading a retreat in Northern Ireland in August and in the rush of excitement after the show, I checked it out. It was surprisingly cheap for what was offered and the dates happened to perfectly fit into the time that Alice was already scheduled to be in Seattle. Participation is not guaranteed--there's an application process so that they can assemble a group they think will work well together. I emailed the main facilitator, Gareth Higgins, and learned that yes, there was still room, so after remarkably little conversation, I submitted an application for Jason and myself. And suddenly we were going to Northern Ireland. You can see all of our photos on Flickr, if you're interested.

We flew over on Monday, via Newark. Unsurprisingly, there are no direct flights from Boston to Belfast, still. We were able to check in early to the Europa Belfast, gorgeous and conveniently adjoining the central bus station where we were to meet our group the next day. We napped, then dragged ourselves out for a walk that included a quick hour's tour of the Ulster Museum before it closed for the day.

The Ulster Museum

It was a lovely evening and we strolled for quite a while in the Botanic Gardens, which has one of the most beautiful rose gardens I've ever encountered, as well as a lovely glasshouse.


Back at the hotel I managed to stay awake by showering and then we headed out to Mourne Seafood, where we had a delightful meal in a casual atmosphere--their pickled fish was a particular highlight.


We fell into bed and slept for ten hours, which gave us just time to pack up and grab our favorite pizza (pepperoni & rocket) at Pizza Express before it was time to meet our bus.

Waiting outside the Caffe Nero was Ruthanne, recognizable by her pile of luggage and American je ne sais quoi. Inside the shop we found other fellow travellers, exchanging the password "Are you waiting for Gareth?" At last our driver, Niall, arrived and took us around the corner to a 25-passenger "people carrier" that was to take us down the coast to Kilkeel in County Down. Our accommodations for the first half of the retreat were in Hanna's Close, a group of cottages a mile or so outside of town.


Built in the 17th century, they were restored in 1997, so they have electricity and indoor plumbing and fairly modern kitchens. But they also have stone floors and plastered stone walls and fireplaces and a cozy, rustic feel. We were assigned housemates based mostly on how the rooms were configured; our house (Johnny's Cottage) included ourselves, a woman from Colorado, a mom from Richmond, VA and her daughter from Portland, who is also a theatre director, so we had lots to talk about.


Each morning we made our own breakfasts from supplies provided. On two of the mornings one of the other leaders, Karen Moore, led a contemplative session for anyone who wanted to join her. Jason was a little concerned that something I'd said might make people think he was just along for the ride and I encouraged him to attend the first of these alone in order to counteract that idea. On the other morning I joined him. Karen had a selection of quotations on slips of paper and we each pulled one, sat with it for a while, and then read it aloud and spoke about what it evoked for us. Karen has a marvelously calm and centered air--one of the other participants said that she got from Karen the best hug she had ever received from a stranger. At the same time she's happy to giggle at a good joke, or at herself and I really enjoyed spending time with her.

In the later morning we'd have a full group session, led by Gareth or Dave. Gareth would tell us a story and then give us exercises around one of its themes. We talked about stopping negative self-talk, being our own best friend, and learning to tell ourselves better stories. I loved Gareth's stories and his way of telling them and it was lovely connecting with the other participants, getting to know them and their perspectives and concerns. In some ways this was the least satisfying part of the retreat for me, because the issues that Gareth was focusing on don't happen to be challenges for me these days. But I got a lot out of these sessions anyway. I particularly liked Gareth's framing of the "better stories" idea: focusing on stories of abundance, ease, and acceptance, rather than scarcity, struggle, and judgment.

When it was Dave's turn he would play for us and talk about the experience of crafting songs, of sitting "in the empty room with the blank page." He explores some very interesting ideas through his songs and talked at length about using the observer within yourself to deepen emotional experiences by remembering that you have choices. He also talked about the challenge of realizing that the biggest obstacles in your life may be behind you--and what do you do then? A couple of times he performed what he calls Medicine Music, when he listens to someone speak about what's in their hearts, or on their minds, and then creates a song that connects to the issues raised. He did this for me one cool, rainy morning, sitting together in Tommy's Cottage, under an amazing thatched roof in front of a peat fire warming the stone floor. He said a friend once marveled at how he does this, making up the chords, the melody and the words on the spot, like he has two brains. Dave said "Yeah...or none." I'll share the song in a separate post--it's not at all polished, but it has some lovely turns of phrase. The experience of having someone whose work I love create something beautiful for me was an incredible gift and there is part of myself that will live in that moment always.

We piled back on the bus in the afternoons, heading to nearby towns for lunch on our own before reconvening to explore together. One day Gareth took us to his favorite place, Silent Valley.


We climbed the dam at Ben Crom and then walked the three miles back down to where the bus met us. It was grey day, but the valley is beautiful and it was lovely to walk along in shifting groups, chatting with the other participants. There were twenty-three people in the group, including four leaders, two family members, and seventeen visitors. They came from all over the US--Cincinnati, Minnesota, Colorado, California, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas--and one gentleman from up near Thunder Bay in Canada. We were couples and singles and two mother-daughter pairs.

One of the more awkward aspects of the whole retreat was the relationship between the different categories. I think part of the problem was that two of the four facilitators had family members with them--Dave brought his wife, Nance, and Laurel brought her daughter, Sabby (short for Isabella, which is not a nickname I'd heard before). One of the other participants was also a personal friend of Dave's, who is developing a tv show about the Troubles. They were all lovely people, interesting to talk with, but it pulled Dave and Laurel's focus to them, created a slightly weird dynamic, and I think added to the stress that Gareth was under. He was having a lot of trouble sleeping--two of the group were Reiki practitioners and did at least one session with him that he said helped him. It seemed that at least some of our time on our own was occasioned by Gareth not having it together to deal with leading us, though it's hard to say without being able to compare it to other trips (this was their sixth).

Our second outing in County Down was to the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, which has a very interesting exhibit about Patrick, his writings, his life, and how it's been interpreted. One of the most interesting tidbits I hadn't known was that the Catholic church made it a requirement that every altar have a relic in order to be consecrated, creating the reliquary market. We also got to see a movie tour of various other sites in Northern Ireland connected with St. Patrick that included some beautiful swooping footage of the area as viewed from a helicopter. From there we went on to Saul, where it is said that Patrick erected his first church. The church that's there now is much more modern and is a simple, quiet place in the midst of a graveyard with views of the surrounding area.


Gareth told us the story of Bayard Rustin, an important, but little-known figure in the Civil Rights Movement, tying his commitment to non-violence into the peacemaking theme of the week, and to Gareth's own position about St. Patrick, which is that regardless of what one thinks of the Catholic message that he brought, he was the first outsider to treat the Irish as if they were fully human and worthy of the gift that he had to give.


In the evenings after our outings we had simple dinners together in the largest of the cottages at Hanna's Close and then gathered to meet and talk with guest speakers. The first was Gail McConnell, a lecturer on poetry at Queen's University in Belfast. Gareth interviewed her, drawing out the story of her father--a policeman in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, like Gareth's--who was shot in front of her when she was three, and of her search and work for peace and understanding. "Forgiveness," she said "can make horror bearable." Gail read to us several poems, including Belfast Confetti and Least Action, which sparked a lot of conversation.

The second guest was Philip Orr, a historian and playwright. He brought some artifacts with him--a button jar, a vase made from a World War I shell casing, flags and emblems from the Loyal Orange Lodge--and discussed their provenance and historical significance. One of my favorite things he said was that "death is not lovely, but there are lovely moments in it." Gareth interviewed Philip about his work helping various groups to create plays from oral histories of their experiences during the Troubles. I'm interested in reading his play Halfway House, about two women living in a house divided by the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He talked about his work as part of the storytelling tradition of the seanchaí, a word that quite intrigued me. The conversation ended in a discussion of Brexit and its potential impact on Northern Ireland.

During the morning session on our last day in Hanna's Close, Gareth explained that after lunch and until after breakfast the next day we were requested to be silent. I wondered if I would find that hard, or if I might find it deeply meaningful. The answer was no, not really, in either direction. It was a bit of a hassle communicating when necessary through gesture, but I didn't feel any pressure to speak. I took a nap and then Jason and I went for a long walk along the accessible section of the Kilkeel River, just below Hanna's Close, and out around the sheep pasture and along the road that led through a couple of other farms.


We've spent a lot of time walking together all over the world, so that was comfortable, though I missed being able to talk with him about what we were seeing. I also had a glancing encounter with stinging nettle that might have been avoided with a verbal warning, but that faded by the next day. Back at Johnny's Cottage, Jason heated up the frozen pizzas we'd been given for our supper and in the evening we sat in the living room with our housemates. I sketched out a rough plan for a play I'm thinking of directing next fall and then colored for a while in the book I'd brought with me. Overall I found myself thinking that there's not a lot of need for silence in my relationships--though I'm always looking for ways to listen more deeply, I'd rather use my time in communication--but then I thought of a friend who was on my mind a lot through the week, with whom I have such high bandwidth communication that our conversation has been described as a spectator sport for others in the room, but with whom I think it could be good to spend more time in mindful appreciation of simply being together. I was glad to have spent the time in silence, simply to have experienced that and seen what I might glean from it.

We gathered after breakfast in the morning, broke our silence, and some of the others talked about their experiences. Then we packed up and got on the bus to head back to Belfast. We stopped for lunch in Newcastle, where Jason and I had a nice Sunday lunch at the Percy French, and then drove on to The Strand Arts Centre. This was the movie house where Gareth's love for film was inspired--he is, among other things, a film critic--and he had arranged for them to show us The Dam Keeper, a short animated work, and then an Icelandic film, Rams, about two brother sheepfarmers who haven't spoken to each other in decades. They were each beautiful and meaningful--Rams was a bit of a slog, but the final scene was a great payoff.

After the movies we were taken to Lorne House, our home for the rest of our trip. The headquarters of the Girl Guides of Northern Ireland, it's set up for groups of girls, so the rooms were all single beds in various configurations--ours had five. The public spaces were very elegant, including a beautiful conservatory that made me long for a lead pipe and wonder about secret passages.


The grounds are lovely, with fairy doors built into several of the trees.


It's just up the hill from the sea and on our first morning we made the beautiful walk along the shoreline to Holywood, where Gareth grew up. My favorite meal of the whole trip was a bowl of smoky seafood chowder at Johnny the Jig. After lunch we strolled the Holywood high street and then headed back, enjoying the weather and the view.


That evening we gathered back at Lorne House to meet the Rev. Dr. Lesley Carroll, a Presbyterian minister (though she's recently decided to leave the congregation she's served since 1998 and is under heresy charges from her bishop at the moment, though she doesn't think that will come to anything) who was part of the secret conversations between Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists that eventually led to the 1994 ceasefire that was the beginning of the end of the Troubles.

Laurel and Sabby had to leave us at this point and Gareth thought he had recruited both his mother and sister to come and help Karen with food and other logistics, but in the end only his sister, Caryll, made it. Gareth had asked each of the women in the group to try to find an opportunity to talk with her and she and I ended up spending over an hour sitting under one of the trees near the house, talking about life and love. She's going through a very rough patch, but has a wicked sense of humor that I believe will get her through.


The next day we took the train into East Belfast, the Protestant section of town. We met with Jim Wilson, a former Red Hand Commando who is now involved in community development and bridge-building. He talked some about how he became involved in the violent struggles in the 1960s and what inspired his commitment to peace--his grandchildren. He led us around the neighborhood, showing us some of the many murals, including one just by his home that features his grandson and the granddaughter of a Catholic activist, with a poem that Jim wrote.

After a break for lunch in Belfast Center, where we introduced one of our fellow travelers to Yo! Sushi, we met up again at City Hall. From there we walked to West Belfast, the very Catholic neighborhood, and up the Falls Road. Gareth described this as "the walk that no one makes," and how even the name "Falls Road" has a slightly sinister feeling to him, even though he never really felt comfortable in Protestant Belfast, either. At the top of the hill we reached Clonnard Monastery, where we met Ed.


Ed is originally from New Jersey and has lived in Belfast for fourteen years, where he is married and has four children. He led us into the monastery, offered us tea and cookies, and then talked about the peacemaking work of the Redemptorists at Clonnard, which is known as the Cradle of the Good Friday Agreement. It was fascinating stuff with a very different energy and perspective than we'd found in East Belfast. One of the things I really noticed was how Ed's face would light up whenever he said "Pope Francis." After our conversation Ed took us to Parlor 4 (which happens to be Room 007, a fact that amuses Gareth) where the Secret Conversations took place and Gareth reflected on its humble nature: it's just a room.


Most of the participants left at that point, but a few of us stayed talking with Ed and he took us several flights up to a window where we could see the "Peace Wall" that divides their Catholic neighborhood from the adjacent Protestant streets.


Once we were done there, we were on our own for the rest of the evening. I was really sorry in retrospect that they scheduled it this way--I think could have all used a chance to decompress and share our impressions from the day and get more of the story from Gareth. Several of the others headed off for a pub, but we decided to have dinner on our own at Deane's Vin Cafe. They had a special for three tapas and a carafe of wine, so we took two of those and it ended up being a lot of wine, but very tasty. Jason had checked out what was happening in Belfast on a Tuesday night in August--not much--and suggested that we catch a showing of Bobby Sands: 66 Days. I was a bit over-Troubled by that point, but glad in the end that we saw it. It was less graphic and disturbing than I'd feared, but very interesting. I remember when it was happening, but didn't really have much context at the time. Jason felt that the ending voiceover argued that the eventual success of the hunger strike--after the death of ten strikers--demonstrated that non-violent resistance was more effective than armed struggle. I thought the message was more that the side that managed to create a better story won.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was the crowd--this was the film's third weekend and the cinema was more than half full and not with an art-house or activist crowd. The other thing that we noticed--here and on the rare occasions that we watched a bit of television--was how brutal Northern Irish advertising is. You can check out some of the ads we saw here and here, but don't say I didn't warn you.

We were on our own for the entire last day of the retreat. I had really wanted to get up to the Giant's Causeway and it turned out that there were several tours that included stops at some of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. We picked one and eleven of us ended up going. The places we visited were marvelous. I'll insert a few photos, but I encourage you to check out the whole set on Flickr--that day's photos start here. We visited Carrickfergus (no connection, just a cool castle and a convenient bathroom stop) and drove slowly past Magheramorne Quarry, where Hardhome and Castle Black are filmed. We had a short stop in Carnlough, which doubled for one key location in Braavos (though most of those scenes are filmed in Morocco), and then a spectacular visit to the caves at Cushendun.


After a pre-ordered lunch at a pub in Ballycastle, we headed to Carrick-a-Rede, where we were given an hour to make our way down to and over the famous rope bridge. The descriptions of it stress how scary the bridge is, but unless you're super afraid of heights, it's really not bad at all and the views are amazing.


From there we went straight on to the Giant's Causeway, which is an astounding geological feature, exposed columnar basalt from Ireland's volcanic past, marching into the sea like stepping stones.


Our last stop was at the Dark Hedges, a lovely avenue of beeches that was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century.


As you can see, the places were amazing. Unfortunately, the logistics of the tour were...not. Our bus advertised five amenities on it's rear window: AC, TV, WiFi, Fridge, and Toilets. None of those were working. Without being able to show us clips from Game of Thrones our guide had very little to say about any of the places we visited, or the countryside we were driving through. The transmission and shocks were shot--I was very surprised that we made it back up the hill at Carrick-a-Rede and we only did so in a cloud of smoke that left us choking for about ten minutes. It was a gorgeous day outside, but the sun made for an extremely hot ride, especially where we were sitting at the back. We stripped down as far as modestly possible, but it wasn't until Jason went up and found the button for the rear fan that we got some relief, after asking at every stop if there were any way to get more air back there. Our guide was incapable of communicating the timing clearly, or shepherding his charges, with the result that we ran later and later. He said there was roadwork in Ballintoy that would prevent our bus from getting down to see where Pyke Harbor is filmed, but we suspect he just didn't want to get any further off schedule. Our time at the Giant's Causeway was much shorter than advertised and he tried to talk us into skipping the Dark Hedges entirely. Our veto made us an hour late getting back to Belfast. We all agreed that the sites and the company had made the outing an overall pleasant one, and that the bus had been so bad as to be easily laughed over--as Jason put it, there was plenty of material for a story of abundance--but if you're ever there, I recommend picking a different company than Brit Movie Tours.

For our last dinner together we gathered over a goodly spread in the conservatory and Gareth put on music so we could have a dance party as we enjoyed the spectacular sunset.


Afterwards we had one last session of music and storytelling and a chance to say any last words about the trip. It was fairly low key and many of us had to be up early, so we broke up early and headed up to pack. I had another short conversation with Caryll, wished her well and promised to connect online, and then it was time for bed. A taxi picked us up for the ride back to Belfast International, we connected through Newark, and made it back to Somerville in time to see that evening's performance of The Spanish Tragedy before we keeled over.

In the end, I think that if I had known more exactly what was in store for us, I probably wouldn't have decided to go. And I'm not sure that I would do it again, although I find myself more willing in thinking back on it than I was when I first arrived home. But at the same time I'm very glad that I went. The opportunity to get to know Dave was worth it and I very much enjoyed meeting Gareth and Karen and all the rest of the group. At the same time, it's not clear to me that I actually made any lasting connection with any of them, although continued online interaction might easily change that. The education on the Troubles from an insider perspective, or rather several, was intense and amazing and something I think will greatly influence my thinking about activism and peacemaking, and it was a unique opportunity. Both the city of Belfast and the countryside of Northern Ireland were lovely to visit and having a local guide to take us off the tourist path and tell us stories of life there was a fantastic travel opportunity.

One of the things the trip emphasized to me was how wealthy I am in terms of community. Several of the group made comments about how special the conversations we were having were for them, how hard it is to find like-minded people willing to talk openly and deeply and to share their authentic selves. And I've had periods of my life when that was true. But at this point I could pretty easily gather a dozen friends for that kind of conversation about important things, and at First Parish I feel that I could turn at any time to the nearest dozen and we'd have it, because that's pretty much what we're about. I am incredibly lucky to have friends that I can talk with and reflect on, who hold me accountable, and push me to evolve. So perhaps, like all truly great trips, the best part of this one was coming home with fresh eyes to appreciate all that waits for me here.
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People often ask me about my church and about why I belong to a religious community and regularly attend services there. It's not a very common practice among my friends and there's certainly been enough evil done by organized religions to make people reasonably wary of them. Some of my reasons apply only to my congregation and to my denomination, but others are more widely applicable. Proselytizing is pretty uncomfortable for me, but I figured it would be useful to have my answers gathered in one place. I'm also interested to come back to this post and see how my answers, or the priority they have for me, change over time.

First, a little background. I'm a Unitarian Universalist of relatively recent vintage. My father was a United Church of Christ minister. The two denominations are closely related, both descending from the Pilgrims and splitting in the early part of the 19th century. Most village greens in New England have a big church that is one or the other, depending on who kept the building after the schism. So while the theology of each have changed significantly since the split, there are still many traditions they hold in common, which is probably part of why the UU feels so comfortable to me. Jason was not raised in a church, but when I said that it was something important to me, he agreed to come along and has been surprised by how meaningful it is for him, particularly singing in the choir.

- A Multi-Generational Community - There are very few opportunities in our society to develop relationships across generations. This is one of the things I value from my upbringing--it was very noticeable in college, when people my age would often tell me they just weren't comfortable with children, or old people. I wanted Alice to have that experience and didn't realize how much I had missed it myself. Having women ten-, fifteen-, twenty-, thirty years older than myself as role models has been a wonderful change in my life. And then there are our amazing youth--more than fifty high school kids bring their experiences to our worship and the life of our community and when people complain about kids today, I can honestly say that I look forward to living in the world that they will create. Seeing a path for my daughter to grow up held and challenged by this community is an incredible gift.

- A Focus for Social Justice - Part of our Mission Statement is "to challenge the excesses and injustices of our time." As a congregation we support a wide variety of other organizations within our local community and around the world that I probably never would have known about. There are opportunities to hear from people impacted by the injustices of our society, who are personally struggling with the challenges of our world in ways that never touch my life directly. There are opportunities to learn about issues and calls to action and pointers to ways to live our faith in the world. Yes, I could do most of this on my own, but the truth is that I didn't and probably wouldn't, and that being part of an organization leverages my own efforts in powerful ways. And social justice is the major focus of our program for youth--each year they are led in organizing and fundraising around a particular issue (which they choose) and going on every-other-year service trips (which they research and organize), learning that saving the world requires a lot of work, but that they are capable of learning those skills and making a difference in their own communities and around the world.

- A Support Network - Our congregation fields a team of six Lay Ministers who take on much of the pastoral care of our congregation--visiting people who are in the hospital or shut in by age and illness, listening to people who are going through life's challenges and helping them to find resources, paying attention to who's struggling and could use the attention of our community. They coordinate a Wider Network of Care of over a hundred people who have volunteered to send cards, do errands, provide meals, knit prayer shawls, etc. for those in need. There are also a variety of small groups that provide opportunities for deeper connections within our large community, people who will notice when things get rough, or when someone stops showing up. Many of us have families who can take on this work and many of us have a good community of friends--and I try to do what I can for my friends and members of my other communities, like Theatre@First--but I know what a huge burden crises can be for the one or two people closest and I take a great deal of comfort from knowing that there is a whole community organized to help us, to help my family if I am incapacitated, to help me when I need it. Very few communities are organized around the major changes in our lives and capable of celebrating and supporting us through them from cradle to grave, and being part of one is a source of great reassurance and security for me.

- A Spiritual Home - This is another thing I didn't know that I was missing until I found it. I do think that it's important to figure out what you think about the world, what you believe, what framework you can use to evaluate the events of your life. One of the arguments I gave Jason for attending services was that I wanted give Alice the example that these questions are worthy of at least an hour a week of one's time. What I found is that it is a source of joy to spend that time with other people tackling the same questions, and to learn what other questions different people wrestle with, to be part of a community that isn't afraid to confront serious topics, without taking themselves too seriously. For me, the UU is a great fit--the Seven Principles are all things that I can whole-heartedly embrace, their openness to finding truth from a wide variety of sources fits my own way of thinking, and their focus on Standing on the Side of Love is one of the best filters I have ever found for approaching the world.

First Parish itself is the single best community of people I have ever experienced--I frequently say and am constantly finding that almost every person there is someone I can connect with deeply, if given the opportunity, someone who has their own amazing story and talents to share. Each week I look through the events organized by and for our congregation and realize that if I stopped doing everything else in my life, I could lead a full and fascinating one right there. I don't agree with every perspective offered, I don't resonate with every ritual we perform, and I don't enjoy every activity that we engage in, but I strongly support the variety of voices that we welcome and the freedom we take for ourselves to disagree and to find meaning in wider contexts than any one person can grasp. When I first started attending services, I found myself in tears almost every week, as my heart was broken open and my mind was stretched to wider horizons. Nowadays that's a rarer experience--I think I've adjusted to the radical trust and transformational experience that we strive to achieve--but I can still be surprised by the emotions that well up at the joy of a hymn, the profound resonance of a prayer, the sadness of shared grief, the excitement of shared love. And having a setting where those reactions are valued and welcome, where the point is to challenge us and comfort us, is invaluable to me.
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Each summer our services are led by members and groups from First Parish, while our staff are on vacation. For the service following the two party conventions, Chris DiMeo asked me, Woody Kay, and Lois Fine to weigh in with our thoughts on how our UU faith influences our view of politics. We were asked not to be explicitly partisan and a disclaimer was added to our Welcome & Announcements explaining that while we welcome many voices to our pulpit, the views expressed are those of the speaker, not the congregation as a whole. That's actually going to be repeated each week until November, because the separation of church and state is important to us and there are often opportunities for people to speak whatever is in their hearts. It was an interesting exercise, figuring out how my UU values and my political values intersect. If you'd rather listen than read, or want to hear what the other speakers had to say, here is a link to the recording. This is what I ended up saying:

When I first started coming to First Parish, back in 2010, I attended the New UU class taught by Andrea Winslow and Cindy Kiburz. They taught me a lot—about Unitarian Universalism, about First Parish, about how the seven principles of the UUA can be the foundation of a faith. One of those principles is that we affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.

At some point, we talked about the process that First Parish had gone through in order to become a Welcoming Congregation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals. I asked if the process had been controversial and she said no, but that it had been a great opportunity for learning within this community. What did you learn, I asked. Cindy said that all her life, LGBT people have been part of every organization she’s been a part of, and she always thought that was fine. What I learned, she told me, is that it’s not fine, it’s better.

I thought a lot about that and it went together in my head with research showing that companies whose boards include women and minorities make objectively better decisions. Having more, different voices at the table isn’t fine, it isn’t just nice for them…it’s better.

Starting before I even came to First Parish, I’ve been working on examining my own privileges and raising my awareness of the racism and other forms of bigotry that are built into our society. As a white woman and a descendant of slave-owners, I know that I have personally benefitted from the labor of black workers while having advantages that their descendants have never enjoyed. I’ve never been turned down for a job, or had my honesty suspected, or feared the law, or had any trouble making my voice heard, simply because of the color of my skin.

Since the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, in particular, the Black Lives Matter movement has made me aware of the need to follow—-for white would-be allies to give precedence to the voices and leadership of people of color as we try to join and support their activism around the issues that most severely impact their lives. Current events have brought the work and words of black and other minority voices into greater prominence in my life and while it’s rarely easy reading, it has given me at least the sense that I am paying attention and that is better.

I have read Ta-nehisi Coates’ writing about the idea of reparations, of finding ways to compensate black citizens of our country for the damage that our ancestors inflicted on theirs, for the inequity that we have benefitted from, and the injustice that we have failed to remedy. And I read an intriguing proposal by Theodore R. Johnson, that we give each black voter 5/3 of a vote. I loved this proposal’s echo of one of the most damning compromises in the US Constitution: the decision to count slaves as 3/5 of a person when calculating state population.

Now, I can’t actually imagine this proposal ever being enacted, although I do find it amusing to think of all the people who would suddenly rush to claim African ancestry. But I do like the idea of handing over some of the unequal power that we white people have accrued and continue, all too often, to hoard.

Throughout the primary season, I have been reading posts by a Mexican-American writer named Gabriel Valdez. As state after state voted, Gabriel kept my eyes on how the candidates and their supporters treated black and Hispanic voters: who was actively courting their votes and including their priorities in campaign speeches and policy statements, who was encouraging voter turnout in communities of color, who was supporting the movements started and led by people from those communities—and who was not. These were issues that I had paid only scant attention to in previous election cycles.

And I began to think: maybe I could give them my vote. Now, like any good UU, as soon as I thought that, I began to question it. Wouldn’t that be patronizing? I wouldn’t actually be willing to vote for someone that I couldn’t support for my own reasons, right? And it’s not as if people of color all agree on a single candidate. And isn’t it also important for me to consider other issues—women’s reproductive freedom, for example—that may not align with the priorities of communities of color. And isn’t it awfully convenient that this occurs to me at a point when I think our interests do coincide.

But. But couldn’t it be a starting point for me, as a voter? Back in college I took a course called “Race and Ethnicity in Comparative Politics” by Cynthia Enloe. The main thesis of her class was that whenever we consider a situation, any situation, unless we ask the question “what role do race and ethnicity play” we will not have a real, comprehensive understanding of the situation.

So that’s the commitment that I am making, as a person of faith in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being: to ask, in this election cycle and in all those to come, “what role do race and ethnicity play?” Is there a greater understanding that I can gain by considering how the candidates treat the issues of importance to people of color and how they treat the voters from those communities? What are people of color saying about the candidates and is there a way that I can use my vote to lift up their voices? Because I think that by not only accepting, but amplifying those voices, our whole country will be, not just fine, but better.
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Jason had a meeting in Finland the last week of school, so we decided that Alice and I would meet him in Reykjavik on his way home and spend a week showing her some of the country we fell in love with back in 2005.*

Iceland Day by Day )

Overall, it was a very good trip, despite Alice and I having colds for most of it. We ate lots of tasty food, had marvelous adventures and saw more of the amazing landscape that reminds us so much of Hawaii, only completely different. We're already talking about what we would do on our next trip--Jokulsarlon tops the list, I'm interested in snorkling in the rift, and I'd still like to see more puffins! It was good to have a break and to spend so much time together and now it's lovely to be back.

*There are several journal entries from the 2005 trip, starting here, if you're interested in seeing those.
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I also posted this on FB, if you're interested in reading the comments there.

As you may be able to tell from some of my recent postings, I’ve been thinking a lot about representation in the media lately.
If you are a person of color, or LGBT, you may want to skip this as yet another “white people trying to figure out inclusivity” post. I welcome your comments and perspective and will listen hard to anything you choose to say, but I want to be clear that I don’t expect you to educate me here, unless you feel like it.

Similarly, I ask white men, in particular, to please listen more than you talk, here. Your perspective is welcome, but most of you lack the experience of not seeing yourself unrepresented, or represented only very narrowly.
With those notes out the way, here’s the thing...there has been a lot of discussion lately about various ways of expanding representation in order to make more opportunities for non-white, non-cismale, non-heteronormative actors; to increase the visibility of people in those categories in order to recognize the presence in our society of those they represent; and to address the historic and continuing imbalance of power and opportunity.

There are two basic ways of doing this. One is to examine every role, asking “is there a reason this character is an apparently straight, white, cisgendered man?” And then, whenever the answer is “No, not especially,” to make the effort to change that character and cast someone in another category. This is “colorblind” casting and it addresses the third goal, but usually without addressing the lack of stories about people in under-represented categories. The characters aren’t non-white, etc.--only the actors are--and this is another variation on invisibility.

The other way to do this is to recruit actors from the community represented by the character. So African-American characters are played by African-American actors, Asians by Asians, trans by trans, deaf by deaf, etc. This is great, I love this, we should do this a lot more. It should become the norm.

But--and I here’s where my thinking gets sticky--what decisions are fair game for criticism? I want to make clear that’s what I’m talking about: not censorship, not legislation, just criticism and changing norms. I also recognize that these are issues that we’ve really only begun to address, as a society, and that only on a limited basis as yet. If things were different, things would be different and it’s not up to us to decide on a global policy, but to encourage directors, casting agents, and audiences to think about their choices more deeply, and to be willing to engage with the problematic aspects, even of creations that we love. But how far are we willing to go in identifying these choices as problematic?

Jason points out that the fallacy of “so gay actors shouldn’t play straight roles” has been around as long as we’ve been talking about this--and there the answer is to look at power differentials. Openly LGBT actors have often been stuck in the rare gay roles (though that’s changing, a little) and the representation is still woefully inadequate. I think a similar question is being asked about trans folk playing roles that are not explicitly trans and I think the answer is similar--they should be considered for every role open to actors of their gender and to any role for which they can get a director to consider them, regardless of gender, and their trans identity should be just as much of an issue in that role as they, and the director, choose to make it.

But how deep should this go, and what room are we leaving for, well, acting? Elizabeth Olsen plays the Scarlet Witch in the Marvel movies with a charming vaguely Eastern European accent. Eastern Europeans with accents are definitely under-represented in the movies, and where they get roles, they’re usually villains--which the Scarlet Witch was in Age of Ultron. Would casting an Eastern European actor in that role have been stereotyping them as villains? Similarly--and I know there was some discussion of this when Selma came out--is it fine for the role of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be played by a British man of Nigerian descent, rather than an African-American actor? Are the answers different for fantastical or historical characters than for characters in mimetic fiction? How about rape survivors? Is that information that actors should list on their resumes and directors should take into account when casting? Are the only appropriate acting challenges those of circumstance, rather than identity? If directors are going to cast big name white cisgendered actors, should they limit themselves to stories of white cisgendered characters and leave the stories of other communities to indie film?

I don’t know the answers. As a director in community theatre, my options are somewhat limited by our audition pool. We continue to recruit a wider pool of actors and to encourage directors to cast diversely, but unless we’re doing original scripts (where I notably screwed this up in the past, by the way) we don’t really have the option to tailor the roles to the actors’ identities. But I am thinking about it, on scales ranging from my own work, to blockbuster cinema. And I wonder what you think, what questions you have, what solutions you suggest, either in case-by-case situations, or more global norms. How do we think about this?
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I've written before about the Senior Blessing ritual that we do at First Parish as we send our high school seniors out into the world. That was last week. This week was our Coming of Age service, which is my other favorite service of the year. Our eighth graders spend their last semester of Religious Education working toward identifying what is important to them and then writing a credo, a statement about something they've learned, something they believe.

We welcome them into the service through an "Arch of Love," the entire congregation raising our arms over the center aisle as they process in. This year I happened to be sitting closest to the aisle and got to see the look of wonder on their faces as about three hundred of us greeted them with so much love you could feel it radiating through the room. The kids get to choose their own music and had picked 7 Years by Lukas Graham with its refrain:

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
"Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely."
Once I was seven years old...

It's a small class this year (11, compared with last year's 23 and next year's 22) and one of their mentors said that this group has bonded more tightly than many cohorts do. I appreciated her introduction, and the way she phrased the explanation of this process and ritual: we are meeting them where they are.

These kids are so smart! The things they know always surprise me and I end up thinking about their statements for a long time afterward. This year they are struggling with particularly thorny issues--or perhaps they just found the strength to open up further than in previous years.

One of the speakers has the summer to decide what he will request from the judge at the hearing to determine whether his biological mother has met the requirements DCF set in place after he and his younger sister were removed from her care six years ago. He must decide whether he wants to stay with his relatively affluent moms and their new baby in the school system with his friends, or to return to his working class, recovering alcoholic bio-mom with her new baby and boyfriend...I'm glad that the judge will take the kids' wishes into account, but what a hard choice to be making at 13.

Another speaker talked about her recovery from a suicide attempt last year, about facing her depression and finding her strength.

A third speaker talked about the death of their father last year and their intent to start high school in the fall as a girl. That last one moved me especially because it was not dropped as a bombshell. This kid thinks that they can stand in front of an enormous hall full of adults, most of whom they don't know, and come out as trans and it will be ok. And it is.

Raising our kids with this kind of radical trust feels like such a revolutionary act. Getting to see each of them as individuals, moving from childhood into youth is such a privilege. I've volunteered to be one of the COA mentors next spring and I'm really looking forward to getting to know the next cohort more closely. And I find myself beginning to wonder what the next four years hold for Alice, what transformative experiences she will have, what she will talk about when it's her turn to stand before the congregation and be seen.

At the end of the service members of the high school Youth Group line the center aisle and make a new arch, welcoming them into the next phase of their life within our congregation. They will move from this past semester of focusing on themselves to learning to look outward and to live our shared values, beginning to be the change they want to see in the world. I am so grateful to have the chance to witness their journey.
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This started as a comment elsewhere, in response to a friend reminiscing about a hoarder in her life, celebrating her decluttering routine and marveling at how complicated many guided processes seem. Since this comes up pretty frequently, I thought I'd re-post my thoughts here.

Must be spring: there's a discussion on my FB that's pretty negative about the whole decluttering movement from the other direction (the privilege that it assumes).

When we moved four years ago, I went through everything in our old house. We got rid of seven carloads of stuff (mostly to my mother's church rummage sale, since it was conveniently timed--they sell what they can and then donate the rest to appropriate places and Mom worked the sale for enough years that I can trust they actually do that) plus about twenty boxes of books (sold a bunch of those, the rest to the sale).

Then we put 95% of our remaining goods into storage and lived in our staged house for what turned out to be two months. That was a strange and illuminating experience. Every counter had to be clear at all times--when we left the house, we put the dish drainer under the sink, in case the agent had a short-notice showing while we were out. My wardrobe became about a dozen items of clothing, plus underwear. Alice (who was five at the time) had one bin of toys that could go in her closet whenever she wasn't playing.

One of the things I learned was how things attract things. If there was nothing on a counter, it stayed clear. If someone left one thing out on the counter, rather than putting it away, within two days there would be a pile of stuff on that counter. And it turned out that I really like clear counters and the sense that everything has a place and can be in it when not in use.

When we moved to this house--a bigger space with better storage and now fewer things--we unpacked and I went through the process again, getting rid of another two or three carloads of stuff that I realized I hadn't missed in the slightest. We made the commitment to not accumulating more media--Alice still gets books, but Jason and I don't buy books or CDs or DVDs--it's amazing how much that single decision cut down on stuff piling up.

Alice is now the main accumulator, although the inflow has eased a bit as she's gotten older. It's still amazing how many free toys and hand-me-downs and presents flow in, not to mention papers and artwork and projects. We've stuck to the routine established when she was a baby (because the Mass. Mothers of Twins sale comes every six months and that was our major source of clothing and large toys until we moved here) of going through all of her stuff--clothes, toys, books--twice a year. We maintain a Too Small box in the interim and when it gets full I send what they'll take to ThredUp and hand the rest down to other families in our church. Lately I've gotten on two different FB groups that let me advertise free stuff to take away and that's been an easy way to redirect stuff I'm not saving for our rummage sale.

The urge to accumulate was also reined in by having to move my mom to assisted living in 2014. She had already done the bulk of the downsizing when they moved from a 4BR house to a 2BR condo seven years earlier. But there was still plenty of junk (at a conservative estimate there were 300,000 free mailing labels that had piled up in just those seven years) and treasures that none of her daughters wanted. It made me very aware that while it's fine to have in my life anything I want there, every item I keep is likely to someday be a burden for Alice to dispose of.

We don't achieve what anyone might call "minimalism," but we do manage to keep the clutter restricted to a few zones and clear those periodically. Entertaining so much helps--it gives us occasions for tidying. Now that we're in a post-show period (that's likely to last till the end of the year, at least, so it feels luxurious) I've been taking the time to work through the various drawers and closets. I know that having the time to do all this is a privilege, not to mention the confidence that if I do need something I've let go, I can afford to replace it. But I find that stuff makes noise in my head and I like living in peace and quiet.
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There's a post that's been making the rounds of social media, called 16 Things I Would Want, If I Get Dementia. It's a well-intended list, written by someone who works with dementia patients. Yet I find it sticking with me, not in sympathy, but in anger. To me, living with the reality of my mother's health, this reads like an impossible and selfish fantasy, designed to make family members feel guilty for not fulfilling the simple desires many of us might share for our declining years.

I won't respond to each of the sixteen items on the list, but here are a few thoughts:

1. If I get dementia, I want my friends and family to embrace my reality. If I think my spouse is still alive, or if I think we’re visiting my parents for dinner, let me believe those things. I’ll be much happier for it.
Because it isn't painful at all for a family member to hear you fret as to why her children don't visit, when they're right there, unrecognizable as the kids they once were; or to grieve again and again the loss of another parent that the survivor's mind cannot grasp. Because it isn't hard to witness the detachment from reality of someone who once defined your own understanding of what was real.

2. If I get dementia, I don’t want to be treated like a child. Talk to me like the adult that I am.
The adult who cannot feed or bathe herself, who needs your help to go to the bathroom, who frequently has accidents requiring intimate intervention humiliating for both of you. Who can't tell a story or follow the answer to the question she's asked twelve times in the past hour. Who demands things that are unachievable and pouts when her demands are denied. Who makes up stories and then demands validation and action based on these untruths. Treating you like an adult would be cruel.

3. If I get dementia, I still want to enjoy the things that I’ve always enjoyed. Help me find a way to exercise, read, and visit with friends.
Friends who've let you drift, with whom I never had a connection, who are mostly dead. Those friends? To exercise, when convincing you to walk down the hallway is a battle of wills and an exercise in pain? To read, when the words don't make sense on the page and you can't follow the thread well enough to listen to a single paragraph?

4. If I get dementia, ask me to tell you a story from my past.
You mean the one you told me last week, the same one that every memory seems to lead to now, about your difficult childhood, that no unremembered telling can lance, that left me in tears the first twelve times and now only makes me numb for its repetition, grieving that in your fear this is where your memory invariably takes you.

8. If I get dementia, don’t talk about me as if I’m not in the room.
Because letting you zone out while I talk to the doctor, contradicting most of what you say, is not better than having you argue with me about whether you've been using a walker for three weeks or three years, or whether your most acute symptoms emerged last week and not six months ago? Because you don't know why you're in the hospital and you're not sure where you are, anyway?

9. If I get dementia, don’t feel guilty if you cannot care for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s not your fault, and you’ve done your best. Find someone who can help you, or choose a great new place for me to live.
This is the one I can endorse whole-heartedly, except that there is nowhere that can be completely trusted, where your person and your belongings are truly safe, where the failure of our society to remember the elderly in its plans is not painfully evident.

10. If I get dementia, and I live in a dementia care community, please visit me often.
Because I need for you to be brought to tears regularly by the wreck of my body and my personhood. That you cry on the drive home is not important as long as it's at least once a week.

14. If I get dementia, don't exclude me from parties and family gatherings.
Because making a difficult and often painful journey to be part of a gathering with people you no longer recognize, whose conversation confuses you, where you require constant care and attention, which you won't remember in a few days, is worth it for the sense of family.

16. If I get dementia, remember that I am still the person you know and love.
Except you're not. Because the person that you knew would have been horrified by who you are now.

It's not always this bad--this is drawn from personal experiences with my mother, my grandmothers, parishioners we visited when I was a child, stories others have shared with me (often in tears). And the reactions are personal--what makes me crazy may not faze my sisters, and vice versa. But here's my list:

If I Get Dementia:
- make sure my DNR is up to date and includes no antibiotics for pneumonia nor any other intervention that might prolong my life, if you are not allowed to assist my suicide
- get me the good drugs, the ones that leave me pain free and zoned out
- warehouse me somewhere convenient, that you can drop by for 10 minutes on your way somewhere else, so the staff have some incentive to pay attention to me and not steal my stuff
- don't hold it against me--I won't be the person you knew and loved
- don't feel guilty--aging is a crapshoot and all too often a shitshow and I will know that you are doing all you can, whatever that is
- live well, with my very best wishes
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I tend to have recurring dreams, or at least dreams that follow the same pattern. For years I dreamed that I was trying to find someone at a party in a complicated house. Then I got married and never had that dream again. Lately (maybe the last six months) I have had a new pattern-dream that I only realized in the waking world when I woke up last night from a nap in the midst of one--only the one last night was significantly different.

Cut because other people's dreams are boring. )
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So then tonight we had dinner at Kitchen and it was delightful. We were seated in the back room, which must be lovely on light summer evenings, but was dark and cozy on this winter's night. It's was a squeeze to get into our seats and the woman at the next table was asking if they could be moved somewhere quieter, but once we were seated I found it comfortable and not too loud.

We explained to our server that we had an eight o'clock curtain, so we would order everything up front and leave it to her to set the pace to get us out the door in time. We shared a dozen oysters (I especially enjoyed the Ichabod Flats) and then had risotto--shrimp scampi for Jason and duck for me. That included pate melted into the rice for an incredibly rich flavor and texture, shreds of confit, and bits of crackling skin on top for crunch, with a smear of a berry glaze around the edge. Being able to order a half portion left me with room for their fresh doughnuts with cinnamon and vanilla cream. I started with a glass of Taittinger Brut and followed with the special Merlot our server recommended with the duck, while Jason had a "Diablo" (Lunazul Blanco and Framboise) that was lovely. Our server was delightful--I liked her right off the bat and we had a great conversation about movies that just pull you in and make you want nothing but to grab everyone you know and talk about the film--I think we talked her into seeing TFA on Monday, even though she's never seen any of the other Star Wars movies.

We were done by 7:30, with plenty of time to walk across to the Calderwood Pavillion for Citizens of the Empire, directed by Lindsay Eagle--one of my favorite directors in the Boston theatre scene--and starring (among other familiar names and faces) the fabulous Juliet Bowler. I have a lot of questions and quibbles about the show, but overall I was very impressed. It's a strong story and I love how they staged it. And it's such a treat to see science fiction on stage. If you're in the area and have a chance, I'd recommend it--there are half-price tickets left for the next two weekends on Goldstar (though Saturdays are sold out) and full price tickets through the BPW site for all nights.

The birthday weekend continues getting better and better!

Blue Ginger

Jan. 9th, 2016 01:10 am
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A few years ago, Jason and I had an amusingly bad experience at Blue Ginger. I said at the time that I hoped to go back sometime that wasn't Valentine's Day and that idea came up again recently. So when challenged to surprise me with a plan for my birthday, Jason cleverly made reservations there.

Once again, the food was very good. Without peeking at our previous choices, I started with the poke again--it's still great--and Jason chose the sablefish for his main. He started with a hamachi sashimi plate this time--good, though a little sweeter than my ideal--and I tried the garlic-black pepper lobster over lemongrass rice, with spinach. The flavors were strong, savory and delicious, although the handful of raw baby spinach simply thrown on top of the dish felt like an afterthought, rather than an integrated part of the dish's flavor profile. We split a bottle of 2014 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand--a very nice one that paired well with our food. For dessert we shared the ginger molasses cake with sweet five spice poached pears and sparkling pear sorbet, and the creme brulee that was supposed to come with cookies, only they'd run out of cookies and were baking more, so gave us a chocolate truffle coated in black sesame and a cube ginger-pomegranate gelee, both of which made Jason happy but were right up Not My Thing alley.

Unfortunately, while the food really is quite tasty and reasonably inventive, the service continues to be lacking. I can only presume that since no one can afford to live in Wellesley on waitstaff wages, they're stuck with whomever they can lure into commuting out there and just can't get the top drawer servers. It's not bad service exactly--ok, they did forget to give us bread and they made refilling our water glasses very obtrusive, there were no cookies, and the servers' manner ranged from obsequious to sullen without passing through Pleasantville, but there's nothing really unforgivable in that. It's just not fine dining service. The dining room is also overcrowded even when it's not V-Day, noisy, and bland in its decoration.

Overall, I'd say this is not a bad dinner out, but it just doesn't have the feel of a special occasion place. All Seasons' Table does a far wider range of slightly better dishes in a similar vein for half the price with better service and they're half as far from our house. I won't bother to make the trek to Blue Ginger again.

Magic Time

Jan. 6th, 2016 01:41 pm
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When I was in college, one of my friends would occasionally notice that it was 12:12 or 2:22 or whatever and say "Hey! It's magic time! Anything could happen!" Fun conversations about the possibilities often ensued.

Being a pattern-creating creature, I've kept the habit of noticing these times and thinking of them as "Magic Times". Especially since Alice joined us, I often comment on them, and use them to inject some silliness into our daily routine. But it's not only for Alice. Just now it was 1:11 and I yelled "Magic Time!" and jumped up to kiss Jason at his desk. Because kisses are one of the things that could happen.

Magic Time creates an opportunity to notice a moment in your day and acknowledge that the world is full of endless potential and that you have the power to make every moment magical.
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This year our guests had a wide range of dietary needs (no dairy, gluten-free, vegan, etc.) so I ended up making smaller quantities of more dishes than I usually attempt. All of them were tasty, so I wanted to note the recipes for future reference.

Various Nosh - baguette, an assortment of crackers, mousse truffee, lemon artichoke pesto, white anchovies, olives, cornichons, cheeses (Cremont, Belton, Beemster) and a couple of kinds of Qs Nuts.

Turkey Breast - Rather than do a whole turkey, I just roasted the largest breast I could find (8.2 lbs.), rubbed with herbed lard. That was a bit of an adventure--last year I tried and failed to find lard, eventually ending up with a jar of duck fat from Dave's Fresh Pasta, which was extremely tasty. I noticed the jars on their shelf a couple of months ago, but when I went to pick one up, they'd discontinued it. So I bought half a pound of lardo (a quarter-pound would have been enough), rendered it over low heat, combined the liquid fat with sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, and left it to re-congeal overnight. I threw the remaining chitlins into the stuffing--it was that or just stand around eating them straight. I think the lard worked well, but if I found duck fat again, or accumulate some in a timely fashion, I would go with that. I roasted the breast over a cup of chicken stock at 350 for just over two hours, covering the skin when it started to get dark and blister. The drippings were especially wonderful.

Slow-Cooker Stuffing - The crust that this recipe promised never developed, but since I wasn't sure that would be a good thing, that was fine. I made it with 20 oz. of mixed breads (some ciabatta, some Italian white, some regular white, some whole wheat--I missed the rye I sometimes add), onions, carrots, celery, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper, in addition to the aforementioned chitlins and some of the drippings from the turkey. This was a very nice way to free up some space in the oven and it made wonderfully moist dressing.

Turkey Gravy - Making the gravy ahead of time is my big discovery this year. I made this on Wednesday morning, then reheated it with added drippings just before serving. It was easily the best--and smoothest--gravy I've ever accomplished.

Mushroom Gravy - A vegan and gluten-free alternative gravy, it was tasty, but I think will be much better with beef than with turkey.

Mashed Potatoes - I quite liked these mashed potatoes made with margarine and almond milk. But when I realized that I needed to use two bowls, and I needed to warm another batch of liquid, I went ahead and made the other bowl with butter and cream, and those were tasty, too. I put chives in the vegan ones and cracked black pepper in the dairy ones and that made it easy to keep them straight on the table.

Vegan Green Bean Casserole - This came out very well and disappeared, so I guess other people liked it, too.

Brussels Sprouts Salad - Made with quinoa, cranberries, and pecans with an orange vinaigrette, it was a really delightful mix of textures and flavors.

Beet Salad - Another great combination of flavors and textures. We served the goat cheese and vinaigrette on the side.

Anne's Famous Cloved Yams - This year's version was vegan and gluten-free butternut squash with apples and cinnamon.

Brian's Pumpkin Bread - We got to sample this a couple of weeks ago and I think this loaf was even better--so light and tasty!

Lynne's Apple Butter - We have the best neighbors and this was delicious on the pumpkin bread.

Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese - Alice has never been fond of any of the traditional Thanksgiving foods and that bothers me more than perhaps it should. So this year I said that I had noticed and would really like to make something special that she would be excited about. She liked that idea and suggested this. I was a little nervous--I've only made mac & cheese from scratch once before and this required a lot of attention just at the crazy "getting it all on the table" part of the process. But it worked really well and Alice and ate two servings and couldn't stop telling me how much she loved it.

Winter Fruit Compote - This is really easy and very tasty. It would work really well mixed with oatmeal. The one thing I would change is to cut the liquid to about a quarter of what's called for in the recipe.

Whipped Coconut Cream - Today's didn't work out as well as when I followed this recipe precisely, but it's delicious and you should do as they say.

Petsi's Pies - Beckie brought pecan and pumpkin pies and they were both really yummy.

Whipped Dairy Cream - sweetened with maple syrup!

Brian's Wonderful Fudge - because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

I did a lot of prep over the past couple of days and had a lot of help, both preparing the food and table, and cleaning up afterward. In some ways this felt like one of the easiest Thanksgivings I've ever done. There's one more load of dishes for the dishwasher, but otherwise the kitchen is clean and I'm thinking I'll turn in early, feeling extremely thankful.
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...before I forget!

Last month we spent a week in Hawaii. Jason had a C++ meeting to attend in Kona, but decided that he didn't want to just hear about our adventures at dinner this time, so we all flew out for a week on Maui before Alice and I came home and he hopped over to the Big Island for his meeting.

We flew from Logan to LAX and then straight to Maui. That broke the journey into two halves and our transfer gates were near to each other, so transitions were easy. In LA they had replaced the aircraft with a smaller one, so thirty people were getting bumped (they were offering $1000 credits to wait until later that night) and it briefly looked dicey for Jason, but we all made it on in the end.

We got a really great deal at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and I was ready for some serious downtime, so we took it. It was hard to convince Jason to just hang around the resort and relax when there were still corners of the island to explore, but we managed it at least one full day!

Our room was great--enormous, with a separate living room so we could put Alice to bed and still have the lights on. There was a good kitchen (microwave, toaster, coffee, fridge & freezer, dishwasher, sink, reasonably stocked with glasses, utensils, etc.). If I were going back there I would stock up on breakfast food and do that in the room--we mostly ended up stopping by Starbucks for breakfast sandwiches on our way to wherever. I was amused to notice that our room was further from the front desk than our house is from the T, back here in Somerville.

The pools and hot tubs were lovely. The beach was about a quarter mile down the hill, with a cafe and towel stand right there. It was a lovely beach with great waves--a little too rough on our last day, after the storm, but otherwise perfect for bouncing. The food at the poolside restaurant, cafe and Club Lounge (where we were invited for breakfast one morning) was all very good. The staff were uniformly pleasant and eager to please. Alice and I got pedicures in their spa--it surprised me that it's tucked down under the hotel, rather than taking advantage of their relaxing views. I also took a very good Yoga Flow class one morning that really helped to work the kinks of travel out of my body--if that teacher were local, I would seek him out!

The one problem--and it turned out to be only temporary--was a power outage during the storms on Friday night. We arrived back at our hotel to be told there was no power (and therefore no AC) in our rooms. Power in the lobby and the hallways, but nothing in our rooms and the pathway lights throughout the resort were out. The staff gave us flashlights and glowsticks and used extra glowsticks to line all the paths. Jason and Alice hung out and read while I decided to go ahead back to the restaurant where we'd dined to collect the camera Alice had left behind, rather than wait for the next morning. By the time I returned, about an hour later, the staff were just coming down the hall to tell us the power was back on. More of an adventure than an inconvenience, but a memorable one.

If we were going back, we would probably try staying on the other side of the island, maybe in Kihei. While Kapalua was lovely, it felt far away from everything we wanted to do and we (and by "we" I mean "I") spent a lot of time driving back and forth around the island. But if you are a stay-at-the-resort type, I think the Ritz can't be beat.

(in approximately chronological order)

Ziplining! I've been wanting to try ziplining forever and Alice enjoyed it at camp this summer. Many of the places won't allow kids under 10/under 70 lbs. but we were able to try Maui Zipline. The lines weren't terribly high and on a cloudy day the views weren't the greatest, but our guides were friendly and funny and made the whole thing a blast.

Snorkeling! We took Blue Water Rafting's Molokini Express Tour. Bounding over the waves, with Alice sitting on the pontoon of the boat, holding the lines with fingers and toes and laughing at the wind in her hair while the speakers blasted "All Right Now" was a moment of pure joy. And snorkeling in the Molokini crater was simply amazing--the water so deep and clear, the coral elaborate and brightly colored, the fish really might be the best thing in the whole world.

Sugar Museum It's a small place, but a fascinating glimpse of life on the sugar plantations in the 19th and early 20th century, mostly before mechanization. The sugar industry demanded a huge labor force and was the driver of a lot of immigration from a wide variety of places around the globe. The thing that will probably stick in my mind was a mannequin dressed in the manner of a Chinese woman worker--on a day that was at least 90F, just looking at the layers and layers of clothing they wore to keep out the dust and the gigantic centipedes (don't look if you are at all squicked by many-legged bugs) made me sweat and shudder. Admission is $7 for adults and for $10 you get a pass that lets you into two other small museums in Lahaina.

Pineapple Tour! The only pineapple plantation left in the United States, the Maui Gold plantation in Hali'imaile is an impressive operation. They are doing a lot to create more sustainable and less wasteful production and their pineapples are delicious. We stood out in the field with our guide while he sliced and served us pineapples at varying degrees of ripeness until we couldn't eat another bite. When the pineapple's stay on the peduncle (the stalk) longer, they take on flavors of coconut and get much sweeter, so it's like eating solid pina colada fruit. The tour includes a boxed pineapple for each guest--Jason took one to his meeting, we shared one at home, and I took the third to Alice's classroom for a demonstration. On the tour, Alice made a friend--Ruby, from Dallas--and we decided to continue onto the separate distillery tour and then followed them to lunch, so the girls would have more time to play together.

Sunset at Haleakala! It was a grey, rainy afternoon as we started up the mountain. The well-maintained road is a series of tight switchbacks and as we approached 4000 feet, we could see the clouds right above us. We drove into the fog, back and forth, wondering if there were any point in continuing. The clouds were thick up past 6000 feet...7000 feet...8000 feet...9000 feet. And then we saw a small spot of blue above us and at 9600 feet we emerged into clear skies. Arriving at the summit, forty degrees cooler than sea level, we had about twenty minutes to enjoy a picnic supper as we watched the sun drop slowly and gloriously into the lake of clouds below us. I decided that I'd had enough hairpins for one day, so Jason took the wheel for the only time all week to drive us back down in the foggy dark.

Maui Ocean Center Ruby's 6th birthday was on Thursday and her family invited us to join them for breakfast in the Club Lounge, where the staff surprised her with balloons, a special dessert, and various presents from the Logo Shop. Her big present was a skateboard that her parents had brought from Dallas; Ruby and Alice had a great time finding ways to play with it on the lanai while the grown-ups chatted. Then we all piled into cars and went to the Maui Ocean Center. It was a nifty aquarium and we were sorry not to have more time there.

Trailriding! Alice loves riding and was very excited to do it in Hawaii. We had tried all week, but been thwarted by the weather and full rides. On Friday we decided to give up on the ranch near us and head to the other side of the island for a ride at the Mendes Ranch. They had said they'd ride, rain or shine, and they were good to their word: it was drizzling most of the time we were out and outright poured for about ten minutes. I don't think I have ever been that soaked while fully dressed in my life. The trails were steep and rocky and with streams of rainwater pouring down them, Alice said "Mama, it's like riding up a waterfall!" But warm rain's not so bad and it was definitely an adventure to remember!

Wo Hing House We tried a couple of times to get here, finally making it for the last half-hour of their day one afternoon. It's another very small place, but fascinating--I had never known that Sun Yat Sen was educated in the US and lived in Maui for some time. In the cookhouse they show vintage films of life in Hawaii, taken by Thomas Edison around the turn of the 20th century.

'Ulalena This cross between a hula show and Cirque du Soleil was a fascinating and beautiful explorations of some of the Hawaiian mythology. The dancers were very skilled and used puppetry, acrobatics, inventive costuming, and a good dash of humor to explore significant stories for us. Alice was very amused by Kamapua’a, the pig god who lusts after Pele, bouncing his hip-level pig snout after her all through the forest.

Shopping! We're not big holiday shoppers, but we did spend two afternoons wandering the shopping areas in Maalaea and Lahaina. In Maalaea we found quite reasonably priced, good quality t-shirts for all of us and a few other trinkets. There is a market of local craftspeople that was fun to explore, as well. In Lahaina I found another dress--I don't know whether it's a general shift, or if Maui just has wider selection, but it was much easier to find dresses in my size this time than when we were in Kona in 2012. In Lahaina we bought plumeria necklaces for me and for Alice and a book of the art of Victor Kush--beautiful, whimsical, surrealist paintings and sculptures. With that bag in hand we were catnip for the folks in the other galleries along the way and got the full "oh, let me show you this in a private room" treatment, which was kind of fun.


Sansei This excellent sushi place just a few minutes walk from the front door of our resort was an easy choice for dinner more than once, especially once Alice discovered that she loved their Dynamite Shrimp (tempura with a sweet & spicy aioli)--the first shrimp dish she's ordered since giving up seafood when she was three. We grown-ups enjoyed their sushi and excellent wine.

Beach Bum's We had a good lunch here, at the recommendation of our ziplining guide. Their portions are enormous--we ended up taking a bunch back to our room and being glad we had a kitchen to store it.

Flatbread We found the Paia location of a local fave. It was mostly just the same, but Alice decided she likes the Somerville one better--fresh mango juice apparently doesn't outweigh bowling. Not being air conditioned, it was a hot place on a very warm day, but an easy lunch.

Plantation House We got one of the best views of the week from our table at Plantation House, and a lovely meal just up the road from our resort.

Mama's Fish House We followed Ruby and her family to this local landmark just outside Paia and had a wonderful meal of fresh, local fish in a setting that manages to do full Polynesian style kitch in a way that seems natural and tasteful. The bathroom was decorated with pages from the local newspaper featuring ads for Mama's back to the 70's, alongside the movies that were playing and ads for what was surely very stylish clothing at the time. They have an inn as well and I'd consider staying there another time.

Mana Foods The local groovy grocery store (think Bread & Circus, circa 1978) provided a nice picnic meal for our excursion to the summit of Haleakala.

Japengo This award-winning fusion restaurant gave us a chance to explore the Hilton Ka'anapali, between Kapalua and Lahaina. We watched their lobby penguins bedding down for the night as we waited for our table and then had a really wonderful meal. Alice wanted the pizza, but I explained to her about learning to order the right thing in the right place and talked her into the chicken fried rice, which she adored, while we ate more amazing local fish.

Sale Pepe Having promised Alice we would find a pizza place for her, we tried this highly rated joint in the heart of Lahaina and were not disappointed.

Monkeypod We were told this place was worth the trip, and that we had to try the pie, so we stopped in Wailea on our way to the airport and had a tasty, casual dinner with amazing pie for dessert.

While we obviously have a lot of good stories to tell about our week, the weather was really oppressive. The first part of the week was in the 90s and very muggy if you got more than ten feet from the ocean. The latter half of the week was the same, with rain--heavy at times--added into the mix. I ended up driving through the same, extremely localized, torrential thunderstorm three times on Friday night. I know this is an unusual year, weather-wise, but I'd probably pick a different season to try Maui again.
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I had a conversation yesterday with a group of local theatre folk, a couple of whom I was meeting for the first time. While I've written in the past about the many different considerations that go into casting, something new emerged that I hadn't realized explicitly.

When I'm casting (a process that takes into account each actor's performance in auditions, other work I've seen them do, whether they're good cast-members, whether they're new, whether they will increase our diversity, whether they are a good fit in the cast I'm putting together, etc.) I am usually asking on some level, "What will the actor learn in this role?"

When I said this, one of the other people said "But you wouldn't want a whole cast of people working outside their comfort zone," and I'm not sure of that. I think that in general I always want my actors to be working, to be reaching. I rarely cast people entirely against type--while I tend to find type-casting insipid, casting against type is tricky--but I do try to cast actors where they will be doing something at least a little new. This is harder with smaller, background roles, because there is less scope to many of them. I've made casting offers that basically say "I know this role would be easy for you, and therefore you may not want to take it, but I could really use your skills in it." But I've also not cast the obvious choice in roles because I thought that would be too easy and therefore not fun for the actor, and therefore not exciting for the audience.

And I wonder--do other directors recognize this? Do you do it explicitly, or not at all?

One of the many reasons I'm looking forward to Metamorphoses is that I think the nature of the script will require stretching from every member of the cast--and there are no small parts.

NB: I realize I'm posting here less. I would like to be writing more and I need to think more about why I'm not doing that and what changes I might make to re-focus.
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Theatre@First is thrilled to announce our next mainstage show! Told through a series of Greek myths, Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses is a timeless tale of the transformational power of love. Twelve actors will take on eighty roles, from gods to monsters, in this Tony Award-winning ensemble play. Actors of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity are encouraged to audition. Join Artistic Director Elizabeth Hunter for a fun and challenging theatrical adventure in 2016.

For more information and to schedule your audition, please visit our website.

December 1-2 at Unity Somerville

April 8-16 at the Davis Square Theatre

Don't miss your chance to be part of an unforgettable show! SIGN UP TODAY TO AUDITION

And catch our current production, The Importance of Being Earnest, performing Nov 12-21 at Unity Somerville!
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My sister posted an article about The Tasting Counter, a new restaurant opening in Somerville. It sounded very much up our alley and we are trying to take as much advantage of Alice being out of town as possible, so we went.

The Tasting Counter lives up to its name--tucked into a corner of the Aeronaut Brewery, it is an open kitchen surrounded by a counter that could seat up to twenty. There were twelve of us tonight and we were at one end. One of the Aeronaut owners was at the opposite corner. The team is fairly small--just the chef, three sous chefs, the sommelier, and the chef's wife who keeps things running smoothly. There is a choice of beverage pairings (wine, beer, sake, or non-alcoholic) and we had chosen the wine.

Details behind the cut )

Overall, Peter Ungár's work reminds me most of the meal we had last year at The Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, but where that tipped slightly over into more interesting than good, this one was solidly delicious from first to last. Ungár has an incredible grasp of flavor and has clearly put a lot of research into his methods and combinations. This kind of meal does not come cheaply, but at $150 per person--including beverages--it's really a steal, and the ticketing format (all-inclusive in advance, no need to bring your wallet) is very relaxing.

The one refinement I would like to see--not just here, but at every kitchenside meal I've had--is more effort put into the interaction. The staff should all be introduced at the beginning of the evening. Rather than describing the dishes when they are served they should be introduced when they begin plating, so that the diners can be more engaged in the process, instead of guessing what's happening. I realize that puts a lot of pressure on the team and not all cooks enjoy interacting with their guests, but I think it would add significantly to the experience and really set it apart from eating in the dining room.

Having a restaurant like this within walking distance of home is an incredible development. I'm really excited to go back as the menu changes and see what other surprises Chef has in store.


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