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Farewell to the House of Sticks

Houseofsticks_1Over the weekend of the 15th and 16th, our House of Sticks fell down. To the left is a picture of the House of Sticks in October of 2002. That's me with the tummy. Elizabeth was born a few days later.

I have been putting of writing about this, since it marks sort of the end of an era for me. When Peter was very small, under three as I recall, he wanted me to build him a tree house, but I didn't want to build him a tree house at anything like the usual height because I was afraid he would fall out. At the time I was cleaning up fallen branches in the wooded area of your yard to make the yard more playable.

And I had this great idea: I could use all these nice long sturdy branches to make a groundlevel treehouse, which we called the House of Sticks. I think we began it around June of 2000. It actually took me over a year to construct it, working off and on, and in fact it wasn't just me, but Peter and I, since I let him help put in the decking screws that held it together. Making the walls was easy enough. First I made a pile of sticks all cut to the same length. And then I screwed them to sturdier sticks to frame it.

I briefly contemplated a House of Straw made of straw bales and a House of Brick involving fake brick from the hardware store, but decided that not only was that too much trouble, it also might involve large piles of rotting straw bales, and futher that I was not insane so I should put the thought right out of my head. (I also did not want to get into the kind of straw bale construction that involves protecting the bales from moisture.) One hand-made playhouse was enough.

Our yard is very hilly, which is why I was concerned to make it playable in the first place. And it turned out to be remarkably difficult to find a spot level enough to site the house of sticks without having to do really a lot of site preparation of a kind I didn't want to get into.

Houofsticks0501Eventually, I settled on an area near the edge of our property line which, while mostly flat, also was one of the wetter areas of the yard. But unless I wanted to something involving pouring concrete, it was the best spot in the yard for the house.  Here I am with the house assembled, but still lacking a roof.

I was all ready to build a roof right away, but I have a Mechanical Engineer for a mother who kept telling me that each proposed design for the roof was going to be too heavy. And so I think it was the spring of 2002 when the House of Sticks finally got its roof. (Most such structures do not have the benefit of an engineering consult.) I ultimately settled on the wooden latice roof you see in the first picture.

Once the roof was up, I planted wisteria next to it with the intention that the wisteria engulf the structure, weaving between the sticks and giving it greater stability. The wisteria had other ideas. It wanted to run up to the weathervane and stay there. Most of the weaving that went on was done by me, not by the uncooperative wisteria.

Here is Elizabeth in the House of Sticks last October, a photo I took with my cellphone camera:


Each winter, the house would sustain some damage, and each spring I would go out with decking screws and a few more sticks to shore things up. The house was made of sticks from the yard, not from commercial lumber, so I knew that ultimately it would rot out and have to be torn down. This past spring, most of the new damage looked unfixable, so I knew that this was probably the last year for the House of Sticks.

So we came home from Washington, DC two weeks ago, where we had celebrated the kids' birthdays with their cousins attended Capclave. The House of Sticks had fallen down in a storm while we were gone:


In a day or so, I'll start tearing it down. But for me it has symbolized what I think is best about my mothering and so it is hard to part with. I have a photo album for it on Flickr, to which I'll add other pictures as I come across them.

Next spring, we'll build something else.

Frog on the Window


A frog on the window by our front door, 8:45 AM, 10/23/05, Pleasantville, New York. I think it's a spring peeper. I don't know why it's on the window, except for the obvious fact thatthe house is warmer than it it outside. It's a wet, rainy moring. The current temperature is 43 °F / 6 °C.

Weird Westchester County Conservative Political Intrigue

Ever since I registered to vote in Westchester, I've always thought it sort of quaint that in nearly every election, a Right to Life party candidate appears along side the candidates from other parties. Since candidates can appear on more than one party line, usually the RTL candidate is the same person as the Republican candidate, but not always. In this household, where the other voter is a registered Republican, that line comes in handy. If a candidate appears on the RTL line, that candidate is presumed to have other bad ideas as well.

So I tend to view the RTL endorsement as something that loses local Republican candidates votes.  Apparently, Republican candidate for District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, feels differently. From the New York Times: Candidate Says He Was Offered a Quid Pro Quo to Exit the Race

WHITE PLAINS, Sept. 26 - A third-party candidate in the race for Westchester district attorney said on Monday that he had been approached by a person with ties to the Republican candidate, Janet DiFiore, and asked to bow out of the race in exchange for a job in Mrs. DiFiore's office, should she win.

The candidate, Anthony J. DeCintio, Jr., said the offer to drop out of the race had come late last month during a phone conversation with a friend who was calling on behalf of Mrs. DiFiore's husband, Dennis Glazer. Mr. Glazer, a lawyer in New York City, had been concerned that Mr. DeCintio would cost his wife crucial votes in November.

Mr. DeCintio is running on the Right to Life ticket, which is expected to attract a small percentage of Westchester County voters who might otherwise support Mrs. DiFiore.

Mr. DeCintio, a malpractice lawyer who lives in Tuckahoe, said he declined what he believed to be an offer of a bribe and then reported the phone call to an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"I was stunned," he said. "This was on the last day that I could have withdrawn my name from the ballot, and they basically called me up and said it was a close election, and that I'd have a free hand in the district attorney's office if I backed out."

Weird weird weird. 

A Westchester Afternoon: Post-Scarcity Suburbia

Riding in the car this afternoon, the news came on the radio. After the news was mostly over, Peter (about to begin the 3rd grade)  remarked on the absence on any terrorists in our neighborhood and in neighborhoods nearby. He seemed to think that terrorists must be prevalent in other people's neighborhoods but that we were somehow lacking them. And he wondered why.

Meanwhile, there is something that's been eating me all day.  I was reading the NYT article about the high mortality rate for heart disease in the New York City suburbs (which, given David's angioplasty, I read thoroughly), defying all the usual socio-economic indicators. I couldn't resist the temptation to check on the socio-economic indicators for this precise area. And I came smack up against the cold hard fact that our income is just about half the median income for families in our school district. No wonder I can't afford much babysitting!

There are these studies that show that a really large percentage of the population thinks they are middle class, and on the other hand there are also surveys showing that 20% of the population thinks they are in the top 1% financially. I knew, in principle, that by the inflated standards of this area, that we are poor. It is quite another thing to have the numbers in hand, to know that if I had the highest-paying job I've ever held, it would bring us only a small way toward the "median" income for families in our school district. (I don't even want to know what the average is, because with the really high incomes averaged in, the average is surely much higher.)  But despite my shock at confrontation with the actual numbers (which are probably a little out of date, and therefore a little low) mental arithmetic suggests that they are about right. The typical household in this area probably does have an extra seven thousand dollars a month to spend. 

I would like to say that I can't imagine what I would spend that money on, but it isn't true, because I've watched them do it. Moment by moment I have to resist the social signals as to what "normal" households spend. So I know. I know it in my very bones. Just why haven't we remodeled our kitchen three times in the past decade? Why don't our kids attend summer camps that cost $5,000 per child per summer? Why haven't we added that stone facade yet?

In an earlier post, I referred to this area as "post-scarcity suburbia." I was partly joking, but I think that term was more accurate than I intended it. Definition: Post-scarcity suburbia is a suburb in which you are able to contract for nearly everything a neighborhood is supposed to provide. While there may be some reciprocity between neighbors, none is necessary since whatever services you require are available for hire and you can (or are expected to) afford them.

Lightning Strikes

The NYRSF work weekend was first baked, then rained out. After a Saturday of temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (indoors and out: we have no air conditioning), the Sunday of the work weekend was plagued by unending afternoon thunderstorms, climaxing in a lightning strike on a tree in our yard. I  was on our screened porch at the time, and my right ear still hurts a little from the sound. A tree in the area of our children's play area, which we call the "circle of stumps" was hit about halfway down. This resulted in a helical gash about 25 feet long. There are large pieces of the tree as far as fifty feet away. Here are a few pictures:


Here are twelve foot strips of tree by a Little Tykes slide.


Here is a charred piece of tree.


Here's a shot of the gash. My initial estimate was that it was about twelve feet long and six inches across. A closer look revealed that it is more like 25 feet long, and as much as 12 inches wide in places.


Kevin Maroney, David Hartwell, & Judith Klein-Dial await the moment when we can turn the computers back on and continue working on the magazine. Around five, David sent them home. (There were unrelenting storms for an hour and a half after that.)

(Photos taken with my video camera, so they're a little grainy.)

Photos from the Pleasantville Music Festival

Img_0039At David's request, I've put up an album of photos from the Pleasantville Music Festival that took place this past weekend. Most of the photos are of David's son Geoff Hartwell and his band.

It was a NYRSF work weekend, so we had a houe full of people working on the magazine and so attended much less of the festival than we otherwie would have.

Local Preschool Politics

A couple of hand-painted signs I saw this morning prompted me to write the following note to the Town Planning Board. There is apparently a proposal to locate a small nursery school in a house up a long driveway off Bear Ridge Road, an arterial that leads from the village of Pleasantville to King Street (Rt 120). The guy acros the street seems to have blown his stack and stayed up all night painting signs. Here's my 2 cents:

Mt. Pleasant Planning Board
One Town Hall Plaza
Thornwood, NY

RE: Revised 2-Lot Subdivision App. #873 and Application for Site Plan Approval for Nursery School & Special Use Permit Application App. SP- 1016 for 235 Bear Ridge Road

This morning, when driving my husband to the train station, I saw several signs posted by an opponent of these applications asking people to turn out this evening and express opposition to the proposed day care facility. So I am moved to express my opinion, but instead wish to speak in support of these applications. I am unable to attend the meeting, so I am writing this letter instead.

I do not know either the applicant or the party posting the signs. But I gather the opponents are concerned about a potential increase in traffic. This opposition puzzles me, since a much larger day care facility at 600 Bear Ridge Road has caused no significant traffic problems that I can recall. (I live at [probably shouldn't post my home address on my blog, should I?] where I have resided for 10 years; my husband has owned our house since 1976.)

Bear Ridge Road is one of the major arterials leading into and out if the area in which I live. The child population in this area is experiencing a significant increase as is well documented by the school districts. The town need only consult its own public school enrollment statistics to verify this. Nursery school slots are in short supply. It is usually necessary to apply at least months in advance for a slot at a desirable school.

Parents residing in the Heritage Court/Old Farm Hill areas are already transporting their children to and from whatever nursery school they have been able to find via either Bear Ridge Road (either heading toward Pleasantville or toward King Street) or via Crestview to Deerfield N to Old Farm N to 117. If we assume each route has equal traffic, a third of the preschoolers in this area are already being transported by car past the site of the proposed day care center. It is my impression that Bear Ridge carries a majority of this traffic, so the figure is probably higher than one third.

It seems to me that a small day care center (the figure listed on the opponent’s signs is 40 children) is unlikely to draw much outside of a 1 mile radius since the existing need for nursery school slots is so high, and that its most likely effect on Bear Ridge Road would be a reduction in traffic: if parents stop at 235 Bear Ridge rather than driving the whole route to the centers of Pleasantville, Chappaqua, or Armonk, the total average traffic on Bear Ridge would be slightly reduced rather than increased.

Hence, I ask that you vote in favor of the two applications before you and in favor of a nursery school at 235 Bear Ridge. Area residents need the services it will provide and it has little potential to create traffic problems, and may even help with existing traffic.

(The family that owns the property in question owns the adjancent 16 acres of undeveloped woods, as far as I know. Although I would probably not send Elizabeth there, since we already have a preschool we're happy with, it might well be a nice spot for a preschool.)

Kathryn's First TV Show

I've had my G5 less than two weeks, and already I have produced a one hour show for a local public access station, NCCTV. I turned it in this afternoon. It documents a visit by a Mr. Kennedy from the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk to my son's second grade class. I filmed it for a committee organized by the PTA.

When you have a powerful computer, you do different things. I knew that in principle, but I'm a little astonished that it happened that fast.

NCCTV's Talent Rock Concert 2005

For local readers, I am asked to pass along the following bit of html email:

Rock Talent Concert 2005. Tickets are on sale. Call 238-2044 for more information. This is a fundraising event for NCCTV. Support your local community media.




New Castle Community Television, the town's access TV station, is hosting NCCTV's Talent Rock Concert  2005, a  musical fundraiser featuring local and New York City performers, to be held 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Horace Greeley High School, 70 Roaring Brook Road, Chappaqua.

The list of local entertainers at this rocking and dancing event to raise money for NCCTV will include: Millwood's singer Lisa Jane Lipkin; Chappaqua's Anthony Loiacono; and Greeley's Gary Lanza, Lori Christie, SaE (Sarah Weiss and Elon Rubin), and the Quaker Notes. Mike Byrnes host of 'The Guitar Show,' also will take the stage, along with The Bell Middle School Blues Band.

Local talent will be joined in the lineup by Larry T. Ellis, a Pittsburg based R&B singer, The Dusted Dons, a Hip Hop group from New York City, Chasing Sunday, a Gaelic folk band, and other Metro Area entertainers.

NCCTV is a nonprofit organization that promotes and facilitates community use of public access television to share information, foster dialogue, publicize town, government and school events, and create awareness of local interests. Through NCCTV, town residents get to produce their own TV shows.This should be a fun night,  said Daphney Mickle, NCCTV education access coordinator.   We hope people will come out to hear great music and support an important cause.   Admission is $10. For tickets or more information, call 238-2044.

New Castle Community Television serves the community of New Castle, Westchester County, NY, operating 3 community channels in the Northern Westchester Cablevision system:

 Public Access
Educational Access

Government Access


Moshe Feder sends congratulations to David and I on our anniversary which I must confess I had forgotten. I suspect David had, too, since he didn't mention it this morning. Nonetheless we went out for a fine lunch at Frodo's in Pleasantville with my father who is on his way home from doing physics on Long Island.

Meanwhile, I suppose I ought to mention that my name appears on the newly released Hugo ballot as an editor on The New York Review of Science Fiction, along with that of David Hartwell and Kevin Maroney. In recent years, NYRSF has actually been doing rather well in Hugo balloting. One of these days we might actually win, and then I would have to be nervous forever after when we sit in the audience at the ceremony waiting to hear our category to be called. Thanks to all who help put out the magazine and who write for it, and indeed those of you who subscribe.

Furthermore, David has been nominated in the Best Editor category. In the comments of the previous post, Patrick Nielsen Hayden tells you why David deserves your vote.

Meanwhile, my stepson Geoffrey Hartwell has recently been appointed Director of the new Jazz program at the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts in Mt. Kisco. And he will be teaching guitar at the National Guitar Workshop in Connecticut; this is particularly special, since he was a student there when he was 15.

Valhalla Gas Main Leak

This morning, shortly after I dropped David off at the train, he called and said all Metro-North service through Pleasantville had been suspended because of "police activity" in Valhalla. The voice on the Metro-North PA system had explained that northbound passengers should "drive" to Chappaqua for train service, and southbound passangers should "drive" to Noth White Plains. So I drove back to the train station and picked him up. He had offered rides to other stranded passengers, so three very grateful women piled into the back of our van and we set out for North White Plains.

Not only had the Metro-North PA system made no mention of buses to transport stranded passengers, but it had also failed to mention the fact that several of the primary roads toward our destination were also closed: the Bronx River Parkway and the main local road into Valhalla (Columbus Avenue?). When we were diverted off of the Bronx River Parkway, we switched on a news station and heard that the closure of this section of the train line was due to a gas leak. When our circuitous detour took us near the Valhalla train station, we smelled gas so strongly that I wondered if it was actually safe for us to be there. I dropped off David and the other stranded passengers at the North White Plains station and took another route home, avoiding Valhalla.

When I got home, I checked Google news to see if there were any further details and called and left a message for my son's yoga teacher whose studio on Legion Drive seemed to be about where the gas leak must be, telling her that the roads to her studio were closed.

Via Google News, I came across this news item:

(AP) A gas main break in Valhalla has forced Metro North to stop train service on its North Harlem line. Metro-North is not running trains between North White Plains and Chappaqua.

Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says as a safety measure Metro-North has turned off the power to the electrified third rail, to prevent a fire from leaking gas.

She says buses will pick up passengers at Chappaqua, Pleasantville, Hawthorne and Valhalla, and take them to North White Plains where they will be reconnected to a train.

Anders says the gas main was reportedly broken while a Westchester Department of Public Works crew was working in the area of Legion Drive in Valhalla. Some businesses in the area had to be evacuated.

Now, Legion Drive is a very short street that goes behind the train station. There is a very dubious-looking construction site directly across from the yoga studio in which earth-moving equipment had cut away the hillside directly below a house on a very steep slope. To the casual observer, it looked unsafe and prompted some discussion in the yoga waiting room. I am most curious to know whether one of the back hoes on that site broke the gas line.

Note to the Westchester media: When the air clears enough for you to go see, do take a look at the site of the broken gas main.

I wonder if I'll have to pick up David at North White Plains this evening, or whether they'll have the problem solved by then. UPDATE: Metro-North now reports, as of 1:45PM: Service has been restored on the Harlem Line. We appreciate your patience during this disruption.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's the Journal News article about the leak:

An errant backhoe ruptured a gas main near the Valhalla train station yesterday, sending natural gas spewing into the air and leading authorities to evacuate some 500 residents and businesses and shut portions of the Taconic State Parkway and Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line for several hours.

It sounds from the article like the construction site was next to the train tracks. If the weather cooperates, I visit the scene this afternoon.

I Got Mine: A Flu Shot Odyssey

As you may recall, right after the the flu vaccine shortage was declared, I got on the phone to round up shots for myself and my kids; Elizabeth got hers within two hours. I made an arrangement for myself through the county. I called the number the county gave me to sign up for a shot and left a message on their answering machine, giving my name and that I wanted a flu shot etc. I called a couple of times and never got a live human being. No one called me back.

So October 12th rolled around. The flu shot clinic was scheduled for 1 to 3 PM. My doctor's office had still not faxed me the note stating that I was high risk and needed the shot; the county required such note as documentation in order for me to get a shot, since I am not even close to 65. I called the office at 10 AM and was told the doctor would write the note as soon as he was done with the current patient. At 12:45, when I left to pick up my daughter, no fax had arrived. When I returned home at 1:15, there was still no fax, so I tried to call the doctor's office and got only their machine saying that they were in the office but were currently unable to answer the phone. The message said if it was a medical emergency, I could hold for the answering service. This went on for 15 minutes as I called repeatedly trying to get through. I decided to go there in person, since I was running out of time.

I am a much pushier person than I was when I moved to New York 20 years old. The old Kathryn, fresh from Seattle, would not have gone to the office and demanded the note. But there I was, in my doctor's office. The note had not yet been written because he couldn't remember why I needed a flu shot. I refreshed his memory; the note was written, and by a little before two, I was on my way to look for the clinic.

I had never heard of the Fox Center, the place the shots were to be given. So, before I left the house, I called the Mt. Kisco town offices for directions. You would think they would be able to give me the exact street address of their Senior Center, but all I got were some bad directions (as best I can figure out I was given two sets of incomplete directions) and a street name but no street address. I consulted Mapquest before leaving home, so I thought I'd be OK. Well.

I drove up and down what I thought was the entirety of Carpenter Street and could not see anything that looked like a Senior Center. It seemed to be a short street, so I parked my car, put sleeping Elizabeth in the stroller, and set out to find it on foot. I asked one person after another where the place was and got any number of sets of wrong directions. I even asked the oldest most wrinkled-up woman I could find. And she didn't know where the place was. At a certain point, I began to feel that this was all so absurd that a camera crew ought to be following me around through this odyssey. It would have made good television.

Eventually, I figured out that there was more to the street -- it took a 90 degree turn at the place where its name seemed to change. Then I began asking again and found someone who actually knew where it was. I went back and got the car and drove there. It turned out to be in the middle of a subsidized housing development. There was a reason no one I'd asked knew where it was: I was asking the wrong class. None of them ever went to that part of town. (Westchester town planners tend to put poor people in parts of town that are hard to find.)

Since it was after 2:30 when I arrived, I was worried that they might have run out of vaccine by the time I arrived and was prepared for the possibility of not getting a shot. The scene when I arrived at the Senior Center was a bit of a shock: an irritable short brown-haired woman from the county health department was yelling at a crowd of old people telling them to sit down and wait until their names were called. It took me a few minutes to process this scene properly. Yes, the woman was irritable, but I think she was yelling because many senior citizens are hard of hearing. I wasn't on the official list of those signed up (apparently, I'd needed to reach a live human at the phone number I'd been given); neither were a lot of other people in the room. We needed to fill out our forms and wait to find out if there were no-shows, in which case we would get our shots.

I waited around for about twenty minutes while this sorted itself out taking in the scene. I watched a group of the elderly arguing with a nurse from the county about whether they needed to pay $15 to get their shots. They felt the county should bill their insurance companies or medicare or some such. The nurse explained repeatedly that if they did not pay the $15, then they could not get their shots. At one point, I had my hand opn my check book and was going to volunteer to write a check for someone, but the negotiation concluded and the man paid his money and went to get his shot. I don't know if anyone was ulimately declined a shot because of inability to pay, but in a situation of shortage and rationing of flu vaccines, it seemed to me that the county health department should have had a better solution at hand.

It turned out that there was an abundance of no-shows (maybe people who couldn't find the place?) and so all of those whose names did not appear on the list got our shots shortly before 3 PM.

So I got mine, and I didn't have to stand in line for 6 hours like the people I've been reading about in the newspaper. But this was in no small measure due to my persistence and stamina. If I had been in the kind of shape I was in the winter of 2001-2002, I would not have been able to get my shot. Or if I had been 90 years old and too dotty to remember my checkbook. Or. Or. Or. It was not a reassuring experience. Why did that flu vaccination clinic have so many no-shows? I doubt it was because people got their shots elsewhere. How many of those people will be able to make other arrangements? How many of them will get the flu?

Two Idiots and a Handgun

About the time I was meeting Peter at the school bus yesteray afternoon, there was an armed robbery going on nearby on the other side of the block. Two men apparently rang a doorbell and pulled a gun on the person who answered the door. I probably don't know the person in question, but I do know a few of people who live a couple of houses away.

This is a very low-crime neighborhood. So this turn of events is quite shocking to me. I don't like to think this way, so the robbery makes me even more uncomfortable than it might have otherwise.

From the description of the crime distributed by the Mt. Pleasant Police, these were not professional criminals; just idiots with a handgun in desperate need of immediate cash. If what they wanted was cash, why go doorbelling to get it? (They didn't get much.) If what they wanted was cash, why didn't they just rob a bank? Cashwise, on any given day I would be hardpressed to pay the pizza delivery boy, let alone satisfy the cravings of armed robbers. I gather that the unlucky person who was robbed was probably not much different.

Nonetheless, a gun can be at least as deadly in the hands of an idiot as in the hands of a professional criminal. I really don't like the idea of idiots with guns being able to find their way to my neighborhood.

A Very Blustery Day

From today's weather report:

West winds will increase to 25 to 35 mph this morning... with higher gusts. The highest winds will be this afternoon and evening... where sustained winds reaching 40 mph will be possible. Wind gusts in excess of 58 mph are expected this afternoon as well... especially in the higher terrain of the region. [ellipses in original]


I guess we don't really need terrorists to bring the system to its knees. The system can do it all by itself. What does Tom Ridge have to say about all this? After all the billions of dollars spent to make the Homeland more Secure, one would think that vulnerabilities in the power grid would have been addressed. Perhaps less money should be spent on enforced patriotism and more money devoted to the system's real security holes.

At 4:06 PM yesterday, I was nursing Elizabeth and web surfing, reading Penis Removal Just Latest In Series of Surgical Mistakes, But Patients Can Protect Themselves. At 4:09, I arose from the computer and went outside to the car. Elizabeth wasn't done nursing and was outraged. But if I waited longer, I'd be late to pick up Peter at Teatown's nature camp. I strapped the squalling infant into her car seat, started the car, and pulled out of the driveway. I think I turned on the radio before pulling out and was annoyed that I couldn't get WFUV, the local folk station. I left the radio on the station for half a mile, hoping WFVU would come back, but it didn't.

I searched the dial, finding stations, though not the ones I expected. For a couple of minutes I listened to an NRP broadcast about the death toll of the French heat wave which described how the record heat had overstressed the power grid, causing power outages which left people without air conditioning and fans, leaving the poor and elderly vulnerable. A man who had written a book about the Chicago heat wave was being interviewed when I lost the station about a mile and a half from home.

I got music on a staticky station which claimed to be 92.3 but didn't sound like it. I momentarily wondered if something 9/11ish were happening, but shook my head, deciding that it was probably just a localized power outage in the vicinity of a major transmission tower. I kept changing stations and losing stations as I drove. No mention was make of power outages on the stations I could get.

Elizabeth was still howling io the back seat. She wasn't giving up. I turned off the radio and tried singing to her, which didn't calm her.

There was a lot of traffic in downtown Chappaqua. When I reached the first traffic light of my journey, it was out of commission. I drove on in unusually heavy traffic. I turned the radio back on, getting stations only faintly and momentarily. Another traffic signal out. I concluded that the power must be out in Chappaqua (though I was actually now already in Millwood). As I waited in traffic, I noticed that it was taking me a lot longer than usual to get to Teatown and that I was going to be late picking up Peter. When I reach the intersection, I saw that yet another traffic light was out. Traffic moved more smoothly toward the forth traffic light of my trip where a woman in purple shirts and T-shirt wearing a baseball cap was directing traffic. Where were the police, I wondered. Shouldn't they come and direct traffic?

I arrived about 5 minutes late to pick up Peter. Walking toward the door, I passed a car with its radio turned up loud. Four camp counselors and the camp director were clustered around. There was a mention of power outages. New York City, counties in New Jersey and also Westchester County were mentioned. That was the first I'd heard of major power outages, but I still didn't really get it. I apologized to Peter's camp counselor for being late, remarking that traffic was bad because none of the traffic lights were working in Chappaqua. He waved me off saying power was out for the whole Eastern Seaboard. One of the other kids in Peter's group was talking about how his daddy who worked for IBM was going to fix the computer worm that did this.

Peter said he had something really important to show me. He took me in the bathroom and flipped the light switch on and off. Nothing happened. See? I explained that the lights weren't coming on because the power was out.

Peter wanted to look at the animals in tanks before we left, but the tank lights were out, so we couldn't see much. In the parking lot, I tried to call David at Tor on my cell phone, but it didn't ring. I loaded the kids in the car and listened to 1010 WINS was we drove home. Peter was shouting from the back seat that I should turn it off because there was too much static, but eventually I convinced him that they were telling me something I needed to know. The station was coming in badly. It was not the local 1010. Probably it was one in Connecticut.

I switched back to FM and got a Connecticut station which came in very clearly. They were reporting that their power had just come back on and reported for the whole 15 minute drive referring to the event as a "brownout." Brown for whom, I wondered. Still no police directing traffic on the return trip. Cars were now treating the intersections like 4 way stops, which improved traffic flow. I wondered why no police. On the trip out, the lack of police directing traffic was understandable. But half an hour later, five block from the police station, the lack of a policeman direction traffic seemed to me a serious lapse. I saw no police anywhere. What were they doing? The location of traffic lights should be well-known to them.

Once at home in our driveway, I tried to call David again. It still didn't ring. I tried my parents number in Seattle. It rang and my mother answered. I told her about the blackout, which she had not known about.

Once in the house, Peter was anxious and sulky. I explained to him that the power outage was a big problem but that he should not be scared. It was like when the roads were bad because of too much snow. Daddy would not be able to make it home, but that he was fine and we all were safe. Then I sent him outside to play with the hose and fill the kiddie pool, a surefire distraction.

Since the regular phone lines require electricity, it had not occurred to me that our phone service might be intact. But at about 5:30, the phone rang. It was David, calling from Tor. The phones worked until about 7. I guess Verizon's backup generator ran out of fuel. Using my cell phone, I wasn't able to get Tor or the apartment where David said he might be, so I presume their phone service gave out, too. (As of 8:30 AM, Tor's phone system still doesn't answer, so I presume the phones in Manhattan are still out.)

NEWSBREAK: David just called from Tor. One cannot call in. They have some very bad phone service going out -- I had to speak very slowly and repeat words three times to be understood. David, Jim Minz, Jim's wife, and a guy named Gavin from production spent the night in the Tor offices. David had me try the MetroNorth web site to see if trains were running. I could not get the MetroNorth web site to load.

Returning to our story: Before dark, Peter and Elizabeth played with the girl next door until she went in for dinner. It was very quiet out. No air conditioners. No planes overhead.

Then we went back to our screened porch. Periodically, I called my mother for news updates. The kids were both a bit insecure and I had to be very insistent to get some dinner on the table and get candles lit. We had plenty of candles available, plus a good kerosene lamp, but I had to keep childproofing concerns clearly in mind, and there were not a lot of easy places to put candles where the kids couldn't reach.

Peter set one of his veggie sticks on fire when I was trying to put more food out. But after a stern talking to, he behaved well with the candles after that. After the sun set, the kids and I watched the bats and watched the stars come out. I'd hoped we might be able to see some shooting stars, but the air was too hazy. Also, despite the lack of light pollution from the ground, because there was a full moon to rise later, the sky never got truly dark.

I called my mother for an update. she said that some official had said that the outage had been contained. Yeh, I said. Contained in a larger container than its ever been contained in before! I saw a flashlight bobbing in the living room: Geoffrey and Annie. We talked for a little while and they helped me get the kids to bed.

It was tricky figuring out what to leave burning. Until I was ready to go to sleep, I left the kerosene lamp burning in our bathroom's shower stall, the most fireproof place I could think of. Peter was afraid to be in the dark and so I put a candle in his window over his sliding glass door. It cast a pure cool light over the whole room and down the hall. It was the same spot I'd burned a candle after 9/11. I'm sure it was visable throughout the neighborhood for lack of competition.

After the kids were asleep, I stood out on the deck and watched the moon rise. There were no mosquitoes about, which was great. It was a much more comfortable temperature outside, and it also smelled better. (Because of the humidity, mold in our basement is flourishing.) A bit after 10, I called my mother again. Still no real news about what was happening.

At 2:38 AM I head the one and only MetroNorth train that I've heard so far. Shortly thereafter, something happened than set off a number of alarms in the area. A momentary power surge? Because I heard alarms and sirens, I got up to investigate, but there was nothing really to see. I tried watching for shooting stars, but the moon was very bright.

As I mentioned in my pervious post, the power came on about 6:30. The adventure continues.

Can I just say how self-righteous I feel about our lack of home air conditioning? We are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Come on people: You don't need to spend your whole lives in temperatures below 75 degrees!

100% Humidity

It's so humid that the smoke detector has been going off spontaneously (waking Elizabeth up from her anp and putting her in a bad humor; grr). I just took the battery out, having established that it is humidity and not smoke that was setting it off.

I put off all my errands to the mid-late afternoon, when it just happend to rain cats and dogs, so I spent most of my afternoon getting wet. I think we've had between 2 and 3 inches of rain so far today. Ick.

The Noise of Silent Meditation (the Sound of Silence?)

I have been doing web searches on meditation in Westchester and discovered Pine Hill Zendo, "an authentic Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple situated right outside the hamlet of Katonah in Northern Westchester." This sounds interesting.

Also on the web is a discussion of the Zen Buddists' difficulties with the Town government.

This is so Westchester! People out here will storm town zoning boards to prevent things on the silliest pretexts. (I have honestly heard someone say, in a discussion of clearing a better path for pedestrians, that if the path were cleared, "someone might jog past my house" in a tone suggesting a passing jogger was a serious imposition on him.) So here a town zoning board bans assembly for silent meditation on the basis of noise!

Few cases better illustrate the arbitrary and even whimsical way in which local zoning boards often cavalierly reject petitions for special use permits than the case of Pine Hill Zendo v. the Town of Bedford, New York.

Pine Hill Zendo is a Buddhist temple, albeit a very small one. It is one of a handful of Rinzai Zen Buddhist temples in North America with a resident teacher, and consists of a meditation room in the home of John andAngela Mortensen. The room has been purified by a Buddhist abbot, and for a few hours four days a week, the zendo's eleven members gather at the house for silent meditation, brief liturgies and instruction.

. . .

In 1998, Mortensen was certified a Dharma teacher, the equivalent of becoming a Zen master in Japan. He and Angela began to search for a place for him to teach, but they were unable to find a location they could afford. Angela Mortensen then asked the town planning department what might be required for them to use their home for religious observances, and were told to simply go ahead. Pine Hill Zendo was formed, and for two years religious observances took place in the house without incident.

In the spring of 2001, however, a neighbor complained to the Town Planning Board, and the Mortensens were asked to apply for a special use permit that would allow them to use the home as a "church or other place of worship," although neither of those terms is defined anywhere in the Town zoning ordinance. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing on the application on September 5, 2001, and a group of neighbors appeared in opposition. None claimed that they had been harmed or even inconvenienced by Pine Hill Zendo during the previous two years. One resident even testified that other neighbors told her they had never seen or heard anything, and didn't even realize the Zendo existed. Opponents simply speculated that traffic and parking problems might develop.

The ZBA rejected the application for a special use permit, citing "issues related to traffic and on-street parking," although on-street parking is permitted in the area at any time except for overnight hours during the winter months. And, incongruously, the Board cited concern over noise, despite the fact that the Zendo's primary activity is silent meditation.

On November 2, 2001 The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty joined the case. On November 6, 2001, Pine Hill Zendo filed suit [ Memorandum of Law in Support of Petition and in Support of the Motion for a Stay ] against the Bedford ZBA in the Supreme Court for the County of Westchester, New York, seeking reversal of the Board's decision. The complaint charged that the Board used an erroneous standard for determining whether religious activities are entitled to a special use permit. It also alleged that the Town's actions violate RLUIPA and the U.S. and New York Constitutions.


On April 8, 2002, the Town of Bedford agreed to a Stipulation of Settlement and Discontinuance in which it agreed: 1) to vacate the decision in which the ZBA denied the special permit; 2) agreed to issue a special permit; 3) specified conditions under which Pine Hill Zendo would be allowed to operate, including a limit of 12 persons gathered for worship and/or meditation at any one time, no more than 5 overnight guests, a limit of 6 one day retreats per year, and "all reasonable efforts" to encourage attendees to avoid on-street parking. The Town also agreed to pay $30,000 in attorney's fees and costs to Pine Hill Zendo.

Old Farm Hill Park

Old Farm Hill Park is around the corner on the other side of the block on Old Farm Road South. At the time of the Mt. Pleasant 1970 Comprehensive Master Plan, the park was 6.1 acres earmarked for a playground, with the possibility of buying additional acreage (which the town did) to provide for a playfield. It is now 22 acres, but remains undeveloped. The land has frontage on Old Farm Road about the width of a house lot, plus a road-width bit of frontage one house further. The rest of the 22 acres is surrounded by the backs of people's back yards.

When David and his first wife moved into this house in the mid-1970s, it was possible to go for walks in the park. As nearly as I can tell, it is former farmland, gradually being reclaimed by forest and underbrush. Three years ago, when I tried to find my way in to have a look at the park as a possible place for nature walks, I found it heavily overgrown with briars. Also, the road frontage is quite steep, leading immediately into a marshy area. So the main frontage of the park is a quite treacherous way to enter. I've looked at the parks department's topo maps. The road strip is a much gentler way in. However, it is overgrown with chest-height underbrush at present. So for me, this park is, in it's current form, quite unusable.

This does not mean that it isn't being used. For one thing, I'm sure that it is heavy used by the local deer population. This sounds like a good thing, but we are on the main deerpath and so not only do the deer eat most things we might wish to plant in the yard, but they carry deer ticks which carry Lyme Disease. This household has had three (all serious) cases of Lyme disease. So even though deer are pretty, we are not big fans.

Also, I'm told by the head if the parks department that there are bike trails and such immediately in back of the adjacent houses. So, to some extent, neighborhood children use, or have used, at least the outside edges. Also, a number of the houses adjacent the park are of the type that have a big front yard, providing the estate-style entry, combined with a small back yard. The undeveloped park contributes to the illusion of an estate by giving the sense that the homeowner is the master of all he surveys. So this undeveloped park is used, after a fashion, but only by people with adjacent yards.

It's perimeters are entailed in much the same way as the shoreline of Tercia Lake, the nearby lake I mentioned in yesterday's post. However, Old Farm Hill Park is public land, paid for by the taxes of town residents.

Why has it remained undeveloped? I don't know the deep history of it, however I do know that when Peter was a newborn, we got a little flyer in our mailbox from a group promoting the idea of putting a small walk-to only playground in Old Farm Hill Park. Before the group had even had time to present a formal proposal, the people with homes adjacent the park rose up and mobbed a town council meeting, angrily shouting that they did not want the park developed.

What I'm given to understand is that they had two main objections:

(1) Increased traffic on Old Farm Road South. This is a legitimate objection, given that there are no sidewalks on Old Farm Road South. The overall safety of that road would be improved by the addition of sidewalks, even if there were a developed park.

(2) Adjacent residents wanted to retain their woodland views. Nothing in the meek proposal by a group of local mothers would have interfered with the views of any of the parks' neighbors, especially since they weren't even proposing that a road in be built. Nonetheless, the owners of illusory estates fought hard to preserve the illusion. From their perspective any development of the park was a potential threat.

Several years ago, I went over the topological map with the head of the parks department. The park is actually large enough that one could have a playground and several baseball fields in it without interfering with the views of adjacent neighbors.

For now, the park remains undeveloped.

PETER QUOTE OF THE DAY: Peter, watching WALKING WITH CAVEMEN, says Mommy, one of our ancestors just ate a tarantula!

Why Sidewalks?

In the comments section of yesterday's post, Patrick Nielsen Hayden says "I actually wish you'd spell out your argument about family values and sidewalks." A few years ago, I was all upset about this and capable of long rants, but I feel a bit beaten down on this subject, since not many people in this area seem to see the lack of sidewalks as the serious problem I perceive it to be. I married into this place. Most of the rest of the people moved out here because they actually thought it was a good idea to live this way.

When people complain about the unwalkablility of suburbs, they usually point to unnecessary gasoline consumption or specific details, such as Americans becoming fatter because they don't walk anymore.

I approach this topic from a pragmatic and functional standpoint. I live in Pleasantville, NY, one of the places the suburbs were invented. Readers Digest's historic move to our town was one of the things that set the new idea of the suburbs in motion. Also, we are about a mile from Frank Lloyd Wright & co.'s development, Usonia. We live in the kind of suburb people move to "for the kids." We have an excellent school system, fine libraries, and beautiful, well-equipped parks.

Yes, I will drive an enormous car over 60 miles today to get Peter where he needs to go. Summer camp has begun. If you see children in their own yard during summer camp hours, it's like seeing a racoon out in daylight -- it means they're sick; don't go close. Children are trucked away every weekday morning in the summer and don't return until late afternoon.

Two summers ago, I did a lot of work in the yard. I watched all summer and never saw an unaccompanied child walk down our street. Many adults walk for exercise. But those gentle suburban curves in the street hamper visibility. Many yards have shrubbery that grows into the street. And, of course, there are no sidewalks. Why don't kids walk down the street? Although there is very little traffic, to walk safely, you have to zigzag across the street.

We have an interesting swamp behind our house. The only child other than my own that I have ever observed exploring it isn't from around here. He lives in Scottland and his grandfather lives up the street. Poison ivy and Lyme disease reinforce the general suburban tendencies, so kids stay in their own yards until mommy can drive them somewhere. They do this until they are old enough to drive.

When Peter was born, there were several families with children close by, but they never crossed property lines. Playdates came in cars by appointment. Kids played in their own yards in the center of the grass on wooden playstructures. All of those families have moved away and have been replaced by other families. As each new family has moved in, I have encouraged the idea of spontaneity, of children crossing property lines, and with good results. Slowly, things are changing.

What is the impact of the lack of sidewalks on a neighborhood? It removes most of the social supports for both mothers and children. Know any teenaged baby sitters? I don't. Want someone to play with? Mom will make a few phone calls and see what she can set up for Tuesday of next week. And it gets scary when there's an actual emergency if you don't know anyone nearby. I've shovelled snow with pneumonia because I didn't know what else to do. I've taken an infant along when I went to the emergency room, since there was nothing else I could do. Neighborhoods without sidewalks are stripped of a lot of basic supports for family life because people do not know one another and do not regularly interact.

So, other than the very cumbersome institution of "playdates," how do children have friends? Parents sign the kids up for activities. The lack of sidewalks strips the neighborhood of one of its basic functions, which is then sold back to us at a premium price. How do people find baby sitting? Many have live-in baby sitters or regular sitters charging $12/hour or more. I can't hire random teenagers I don't know, and since I have no network for knowing them, I pay experienced adults with many references. This means that at home, I don't get out much in the evening. Similarly, all other functions that might emerge from cooperative effort within a neighborhood are subcontracted. Running a household around here up to local standards amounts to managing a complex network of subcontractors. (Some even contract out the putting up of Christmas decorations.)

Parents can drive and can subcontract, but children can't. They live strangely isolated and over-supervised lives with little autonomy or opportunity for exploration. (I have thought of nominating poison ivy as the official plant of Westchester County, since it seems to me an icon of isolating greenery.) I can't quite imagne growing up this way, and yet my children are.

What has all this to do with family values? A functioning family is not a discrete nuclear entity. Rather, it functions within a community, and stripped of it neighborhood supports it is much less functional. Supporting the family means supporting the neighborhood, and neighborhoods are much more likely to function properly if they have sidewalks.

Does the lack of sidewalks contribute to divorce and the breakdown of families? I think it does, though I know of no statistical evidence one way or another.

Why are neighborhoods built without sidewalks? Because sidewalks are expensive and contractors are allowed by municipalities to get away with building developments without. We shouln't allow them to do that, but increasingly the suburban neighborhood without sidewalks is the shape of American life.

PETER'S THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Why don't apes have playdates?

That simple question is in its way quite profound and resonates nicely with my post of this morning. (I did explain to him that we are apes. But he meant all the rest of the apes.)

New Turtle Technique

I have a new technique for getting a stray turtle out of the road. Having gotten extensively peed on last week when I picked up the large turtle in the road, I was determined not to repeat the experience. This time I chased it out of the road and back into the swamp. It was facing in the direction I wanted it to go, so I stood behind it and stomped loudly and shuffled my feet to keep its attention focused on fleeing. This new technique worked very nicely.

It's really too bad that it's rained all day, because there was lots of great stuff going of for kids, much of which we did anyway, despite the rain.

First, in Chappaqua, I signed Peter up for soccer next fall (which I suppose makes me an official soccer mom). I do like soccer more than most sports, but I do wonder what Peter is going to do the first ten times he's accidentally kicked in the shins. Actually, I don't so much wonder as think I know.

Then we went to the Lion's Club Folderol in Armonk. I spent all my cash on tickets for the rides. The Dizzy Dragon, which we'd noticed was missing from the Katonah Fireman's carnival was in fact in Armonk this year. Peter went on it several times. Elizabeth had her first carosel ride, and was quite upset to be removed from horseback when the ride was over. She was never satisfied to wait in the stroller again for the rest of the afternoon. We went to check out the live bees and the bee keeper's table and the kittens that Forgotten Felines had brought, and then it was anounced that the rides were closing because of rain. Peter managed to go on a few more rides, but I still have about $3 worth of tickets in my pocket.

After the rides closed, we continued on to the Police Open House in Valhalla. Peter petted police horses and police dogs. I ate two hot dogs graciously provided by local merchants showing their support of the Mt. Pleasant police. We saw a demonstration of police dog skills. If you happen to live locally and watch channel twelve, I'm the woman wrapped in the silver tarp in the background. (My raincoat had soaked through in Armonk.)

Next we opted for something drier: the children's open art time at the Katonah Museum. Since they have an Edward Giobbi exhibition of paintings of houses, the kids art projects are centered around houses. Peter drew a very nice house and then we saw the exhibits.

It's supposed to rain until Tuesday and there's a flood watch in effect for Westchester. There a dead chipmunk by the back door. I think it's the one that had decided it lived here.

Peter's blowing bubbles in the rain.

Sunny Friday Morning

David's off to the IAFA Board Meeting in Florida. I drove him to White Plains airport this morning. We pass by the IBM Corporate Headquarters.

The entry to IBM doesn't look like much. Just a driveway with a sign in a grassy field. I've never been up the driveway, so I don't know what it looks like just over the rise. Leaving, I continued north past the resovoir where the Town of Kensico used to be, past Peter's elementary school, past Old House Lane where the Clintons live when they're in town, on up 117 through Mt. Kisco and Bedford Hills to Katonah where Peter had an appointment.

Katonah is a nice Victorian town with lots of grand old houses. We went to their Fireman's Parade on Wednesday even though it was raining. Their parade is a good half-hour longer than Pleasantville's, and it seems to have a higher density of marching bands. Also, the parade kicks off a four-day Fireman's Carnival which lasts 'til Saturday. Peter went on rides in the rain. He went on the Dragon Wagon four times. The Dizzy Dragon, his favorite last year which he went on until he turned green, is not in evidnce this year.

This morning, while Peter was occupied, I browsed Katonah's art and craft galleries, of which there are a number.

My favorite for sheer atmosphere is Antipodes, an Australian imports gallery with many fine paintings and crafts beyond my financial reach, but which also has a few shelves of very good books. The proprietor is friendly and charming, and has excellent taste. When I was in there this morning, he recommended Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, a thriller.

Another gallery I visited today, which I don't usually go into, is the Katonah General Store II which currently has several interesting exhibits: Museum Folk Art of the Southwest, an engaing collection of folk art animals that Elizabeth was quite taken with, and a photography exhibit, David Michael Kennedy: A Retrospective, 35 Years of Photography. My favorite thing at KGS II was a folk art armadillo studded with beer-bottle caps.

The weather is wonderful today, but we're supposed to have rain all weekend. This afternoon I will take Elizabeth to the Lapsongs program for pre-walkers at the Chappaqua Library. Peter used to love that. This will be her first time.

Outage Update

Our main phone numbers are now forwarded into my cell phone, so in principle, within the next hour we will have incoming phone service. Verizon says they may have our regular service restored by midnight or tomorrow.

To email David, send email to my account at kec [at] panix [dot] com. We cannot dial in to retrieve David's email at present.

DEPARTMENT OF NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: When driving the kids to church this morning (I'm an atheist who goes to church, but that's another story), I encountered a large snapping turtle which had wandered into the road. I stopped the car, got I out, picked up the turtle carefully from behind by the sides of its shell and began to carry it back to the swamp where it belonged. Now, I have plenty of experience picking up frogs and I know that frog pee when frightened. I didn't know that turtles do this too. So I arrived at church with my pants quite soaked with turtle pee. Big turtles have big bladders. Luckily, turtle pee is very much like water.

Power Outage on the NYSRF Work Weekend

Those who have been on the NYRSF staff will recognize descriptions of work weekends that begin against all odds. We're having one of those.

A tree fell on the other side of the block about 3:30 yesterday afternoon, knocking out power, phone service, and cable service for the immediate area. The power came back on at about 8 PM. Our cable internet service is back today, but we still have no dialtone.

Anyone trying to reach David by email TODAY should also send to my email address (which is kec at panix dot com), since he reads his mail through a dialup connection to Compuserve. I will delete this portion of this post when it is fixed.

I will update this as necessary, assuming the cable connection stays up.

UPDATE: The Verizon guys tell us it will be at least midnight before our phone service is restored, possibly tomorrow. I'm going to try to get our regular phone service forwarded into my cell phone.