Wednesday, August 28, 2013

on wood chips, grocery stores, and farmland

 "---- Area School District Property"
(Side Note: The treadmill has been broken for much of the summer, they "fixed" it and it'd be good for a bit and then stop again. After three failed repairs, the new treadmill comes tomorrow. Walking outside is much harder on my body, as in crying at night after many walks, but I'm stubborn.   I "write" while I walk, especially when I can't watch TV and read magazines.  Still, I've been struggling with energy and neglecting the blog.  My pain-fogged mind has meant my ghost-blogging takes a lot more time and saps all of my writing energy.  All of which means I've "written" this post half a dozen times, but never committed it to actual writing). 

The signs appeared early this summer and have been the topic of discussion here in the Rambling Man (I am highly amused by that combination of "Rambling Blogger" and "Military Man") household.  They've been the subject of even more mental ramblings and a good bit of thought about what may follow.

I moved to Lower Bucks County when I was eight, the summer before 4th grade.  My mom had married my step-father not long before and the relocation to southeast PA was for his new job.  We'd been in New York....a nicer part of the Bronx than people tend to first picture on hearing the word, but still within the NYC boroughs.  The move was to an area that mixed suburbia, small town, and rural living.  Our development (where my mom & step-dad still live) had farms on two sides and one diagonal.  When my mother asked how I'd remember where to get off the school bus, I proudly said it was the stop next to the wood chip piles.  She cautioned that the wood chips might not always be there.  I replied: "But Mom, we're in the country now!" 

While the wood chips were there as long as I needed them (and I switched to another bus stop anyway....the complex decisions of youth...), her prognostication (I'll collect my 50 cents) proved correct and the pile eventually disappeared.  It happened gradually, starting with two very large homes on one edge of one of the fields (we watched them go up from the bus stops).  In time, the farms bordering our neighborhood were all gone, replaced by houses, houses, and more houses.  They added some small roads within the developments, but they all dumped onto the same "main" roads which resulted in back-ups that made the town seem even more crowded than it was. 

When people in Central PA hear we grew up in Lower Bucks, they almost inevitably mention the traffic.  A friend who is also a transplant to Central PA from Lower Bucks (a classmate of mine but one I didn't know...the sole high school was bursting at the seams by the time we graduated) reported that one person asked how she was finding the quiet environs out here after growing up out there.  She replied, quite accurately, that the Central PA of today is not all that different from the way it was in Lower Bucks when we were kids.  MM likes to recall riding his 4-wheeler into "town"...home to a few retail establishments, including a Woolworth's style store, a small video rental place, and a grocery store that somehow sill hangs on despite much larger competitors.  Both MM and I prefer the quieter life of that time, hence enjoying Central PA today (as memorialized in my little series for a freebie paper). 

But, we wonder if time will catch us.  Less than two years ago, our small grocery store was replaced by a sprawling supermarket (same regional chain, much different store).  We didn't see the need, especially since it took away the option of walking there and added a bit more traffic near out street) although we have grown accustomed to the big store.  Aside from on the few inevitable days where it smells like farmland (more accurately, fertilizer), we like having farms nearby.  The big expanse of land in the picture above is just a stone's throw away...our yard backs into another yard, the farm is right across the street from that house.  We can see the land from our kitchen window and both appreciate the solitary tree in the midst of the fields (okay, there are two...but from some viewpoints you only see the one and I think that's much cooler).  The signs, showing the recent purchase of the land from the farmers, seem like....well, a sign.

From what I've read, the school district purchased the land with an eye towards building a track and adding in more athletic fields.  This has me characteristically torn.  I favor public education and know, despite never being involved myself, that athletics can be an important part of schooling (though still think the district needs to work a bit more on literacy and writing skills).  I think it is a bit sad that the baseball team's field is adjacent to the high school but the softball team is housed behind the nearby junior isn't far at all, but it bothers me in principle (especially since it seems like the softball team does better).  Still, I prefer "my" farm (not the typical case of NIMBY...or, more precisely, Not in My Back Yard-neighbor's-front-yard).  MM worries about traffic and noise (it's garbled, resembling a Charlie Brown adult, but we can hear the PA during football games as it is), noting the proximity to the farmland was a big element in favor of choosing the house.

There's other farmland nearby.  We'll still be a quiet little town (at least when there aren't trials and CNN vans).  It is just a few athletic fields, not a big housing development or shopping area.  But, it is the end of one more farm.  And I wonder if it's the start of time catching up with us (and if maybe I should have seen the grocery store as the first sign).  And I still miss my wood chips....

Monday, August 5, 2013

Siblings, Parenthood, and a Dash of Illiteracy (book review): Instructions for a Heatwave (O'Farrell)

Overdue review (without rhymes, at least without intentional ones):

First things first, many thanks to the folks at Knopf/Random House for the advance reader's copy.  The overview of this book, the sixth novel from an Irish author in her early 40s, made me request a copy despite knowing I have an over-sized "to read" list.  Amidst a drought and heatwave in July 1976 London, the Riordan siblings gather following the news that their father, Robert, went out on a common errand and didn't return. 

Gretta is the matriarch, a woman who has spent the past decades being defined by her family role and battling some pressing emotional demons.  Eldest child Monica is a loyal daughter accustomed to being a mini-mom to her younger sister and currently trying to find her footing with a new husband and two resentful step-daughters.  Sole son Michael Francis, whose life plans were altered by a sudden pregnancy years prior, is watching his marriage dissolve and worrying over his two kids as their mother seems to pull away.  Youngest Aiofe is living in NYC, a much less steady life than her siblings and one constantly hampered by her long-kept secret that she cannot read (she seems to be severely dyslexic).  The novel explores their shared pasts and their various presents as they try to solve the mystery of their dad's departure. 

I've waivered between a 3.5 and 4 star review on this one.  I enjoyed seeing how the siblings shared roots translated into varied adult lives (but with connecting elements).  I wasn't as grabbed by some of the mysteries of the past, including those that led to the patriarch's disappearance.  I was most interested in Aiofe's story, including the haphazard way she copes with illiteracy in her job (or, more aptly, doesn't cope... she shoves papers in a file and ignores them).  I also enjoyed Michael Francis's interactions with his kids and wish there'd been more.  However, Monica bugged me...I appreciated her in her youth but less so in her adult-past and didn't care for her present step-kid drama...and I didn't care too much about the missing patriarch (the impetus for the action, but not really the focus) or the history or either Robert or Gretta. 

Writing style was solid...not enough to make me seek out the author's other works, but I would read more if the books stumbled into my pile. Read it for sibling relations and the various forms of parenting.  Don't come looking for much in the way of setting...could be set anyplace and the attempts to tie in history felt forced.