Back porch snow

Yesterday, in the aftermath of this week’s blizzard, I took a photograph of the earthenware jug sitting on our back porch. I’ve had this jug since I lived in Toledo, Ohio as a fresh college graduate. I bought it as a gift for my ex-husband before we were married in 1991, and it somehow survived all the moves and downsizings of an almost-thirteen-year marriage: from an apartment in Toledo to apartments in Malden and Beacon Hill, Massachusetts; from a room at the Cambridge Zen Center to a rented house in Randolph; and from a house in Hillsboro, New Hampshire to an apartment in Keene.

Morning light

Through all those moves with my ex-husband, we always kept the jug despite all the other things we jettisoned: unused wedding gifts, countless books and CDs, and almost an entire houseful of furniture. Through all these moves, we kept the jug—or, more accurately, I kept the jug, since I was invariably the one packing housewares, and I liked it. It’s a sturdy thing that doesn’t take up much space, and I would pack other, more fragile things inside it, wrapping the whole thing in a towel and wedging it in a box with our pots and pans.

This jug has never had a practical use in any home I’ve brought it to: I’ve never used it to hold milk, water, or comestibles of any kind. Instead, it’s a purely decorative thing, a container for dried flowers that always added a sense of settled décor—a homey touch—to any apartment or house I’ve displayed it in. I got to keep the jug in my divorce, as it was one of the things C left behind when he moved out, thereby underscoring a point I guess I already knew: the jug I’d bought for him was really mine all along. When I remarried and moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire, the jug necessarily came with me, an artifact from my past holding so many hopes and heartaches.

Fence with snowblower snow

I sometimes wonder about the maker of this jug, someone who formed it back in Ohio some twenty years ago. Could they have known when they held the wet clay in their hands how far this jug would travel once it was thrown and fired, or how many heartaches it would hold? When I bought this jug in a now-forgotten shop in Toledo, Ohio, could I have imagined how far I’d wander with it or how my journey would differ from what I’d originally envisioned? I bought this jug, after all, for a soul-mate I’ve since severed, and I ended up with it in the end: a jug I always liked, and one I ultimately bought for myself. Twenty-some years ago, I was still pliable clay, messy and malleable, but now I’ve hardened and settled into a place and shape I would have never predicted.

Snow on screened porch

The jug lives outside now, on our screened back porch, safe from the cats who knock over any tchotchkes we display inside. It still holds dried flowers and is mostly sheltered from the elements, except for occasional windblown rain or snow. This jug has proven to be a sturdy thing, withstanding a handful of moves between three states while witnessing countless life changes. Along the way, it’s become precious to me as only an ordinary object can: a simple piece of pottery that holds so much of my history. When the weather is mild, I sit beside it when I read or work outside, and year-round, I see it when I stop on the porch to put on or take off my shoes, which is several times a day. I don’t always notice the jug—it is, after all, an ordinary thing I’ve lived with my entire adult life—but when I do, I’m always glad to have a humble reminder of where I’ve been, from Ohio to Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back to Massachusetts again. This humble little jug has been with me, unassuming, through so many changes and upheavals, and it’s never cracked or broken. I wish I could say the same about myself.

Picture perfect

As usual, I took very few photos while I was in Ohio visiting my family this weekend, which is curious since the weather was picture-perfect and I’d brought not one but three cameras with me. While I’m accustomed to snapping shots of nearly everything when I’m in New England, when I’m in Ohio, I revert to my pre-photography ways, simply watching birds (for instance) rather than photographing them.

Great egret

So when my mom, sister, nephew, and I took a short stroll at Pickerington Ponds Metro Park on Friday, I left my new camera in the car and instead carried only my purse-sized point-and-shoot…an unwise decision since there are nesting ospreys at Pick Pond, and we had great views of the parent birds as they took turns incubating eggs. I spent many hours birding at Pickerington Pond when I was a teenager, before I began dabbling with photography, so I’m used to going birding with binoculars, not a camera. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in the shade with family or friends while you watch ospreys, egrets, and the occasional groundhog or deer. But at the end of such an outing, you probably have few pictures–only memories–to show for it.

Click here for the handful of photos I took at Pickerington Pond: better than nothing.

Between the cracks

I’m going to guess this broken-backed bench, located at the heart of Waban Square, hasn’t seen much sitting this summer. A rolling stone gathers no moss, they say, and a broken bench with an unidentified weed sprouting between the cracks probably hasn’t been gathering many tired passersby.

I’m leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow to drive (with Reggie) to Ohio, where I’ll spend the weekend visiting my family. Although I’m taking my laptop to stay in touch with my online classes via painfully slow dial-up from my parents’ house and wondrously fast and free wifi at the local Panera, I don’t imagine I’ll spend much time blogging from Ohio.

While I’m out of the online loop, I’d encourage you to click over to the Cassandra Pages, where Beth has inspired a lively discussion on the current state of blogging. Beth is my un-official blog-mom since her Cassandra Pages (along with Fred’s Fragments from Floyd) was one of the sites that inspired me to venture into the blogosphere back in December, 2003. All these years later, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve learned about blogs and blogging…but I think Beth is asking all the right questions and providing a warm and welcoming forum (as she always does) for readers to formulate insightful answers. Enjoy, and I’ll see you when I return to New England next week.

Surfing at Wai-Fai Beach

Yesterday morning I asked my parents to drop me off early at the airport in Columbus, Ohio so I could catch up with some online teaching tasks while waiting to fly back to New England. Whereas you have to pay to connect to the wireless network at Boston’s Logan Airport, the wifi at Port Columbus is free. After spending a couple hours surfing the online waves at Wai-Fai Beach, I caught up with my students’ Discussion Board posts and turned off my laptop just in time to board my flight. Goodbye, Columbus; hello, New England.

Acres of free wifi

Hello New England indeed. I’d planned to return to Boston on Sunday afternoon so I’d be here (and back in touch with my own wifi connection) in time for Monday morning, when a new week’s worth of online assignments goes live. Monday morning is when I post new Discussion Board forums, check that my Lecture Notes and Discussion Questions have posted, and download response papers from the previous week. In other words, Monday morning is when both my online students and I are gearing up for a new week, and doing that via dial-up is slow going.

Flying during a Monday morning snowstorm can be slow going, too, so I arrived back in Boston yesterday afternoon in the nick of time, before the sky starting dropping nearly a foot of snow around midnight. Yesterday morning was cold and clear in Columbus; yesterday afternoon was similar here in Newton. Last night as J and I walked the dogs and then later walked to and from dinner at our favorite Chinese noodle house, the streets and sidewalks were bare after nearly a week of unseasonably mild weather. “Take one long, last look at the ground before tonight,” I told J, “because we won’t see it tomorrow.

And true to forecast, this is what we woke up to.

The weight of snow

Coming home to New England right before a big winter storm means you can hunker down with your own laptop, Internet connection, and cup of cocoa while the snow accumulates in heavy clumps. I walked Reggie this morning like usual but haven’t been anywhere since. The downside of teaching online is you have to take your laptop (and rely on molasses-slow dial-up Internet access) when you visit family for the weekend; the upside of teaching online is you can stay at home on a snowy day as long as the power holds and the Internet doesn’t die.

For those of you who don’t have loads of snow of your own, here’s a photo set where you can get your (virtual) fill. Enjoy!

Suburban street

Here’s another glimpse of a quintessential residential street on the east side of Columbus, OH. After driving all day yesterday, I arrived back here in New Hampshire at 7:00 pm last night, right before dark, so today’s pictures are from Sunday morning’s stroll around my parents’ neighborhood. Few people in my parents’ Columbus neighborhood walk their dogs–that’s what large fenced yards are for. So as Reggie instigated a minor ruckus by causing all the yard-bound Pit Bulls and Rottweilers to bark and yowl at the strange sight of a leashed, walking dog, I tried to snap some surreptitious photos. It’s rare enough to see a white woman walking in my parents’ neighborhood; it’s even rarer to see a white woman walking a dog while snapping photographs.


One way to tell the socio-economic status of a neighborhood is to observe the kind of cars you see parked there. In some older New England neighborhoods, for instance, you’ll see beat up cars parked in front of large, impressive houses: those houses, apparently, were bequeathed to folks who presumably wouldn’t have the wherewithal to buy them outright, judging from the kinds of cars you see parked out front. Similarly, in large cities the size of one’s apartment or condo doesn’t necessarily bespeak the size of one’s investment portfolio: the brownstones in Boston’s tonier neighborhoods, for instance, might not look big, but their price tags certainly are. But when you consider the throngs of new BMWs, Saabs, and Volvos parked along the streets of places such as Beacon Hill, you know the folks living all but on top of one another in those brownstones chose to live there, the cachet of their address being worth the hassle of wrangling for a winter parking space.


Since Ohio is a land of wide roads and expansive parking lots, you’ll see lots of large cars there. Not every Ohioan drives a Cadillac, Lincoln, or Crown Vic, but you’ll see more such cars in Ohio than you will here in New Hampshire. Here in New England, Subarus are everywhere: their all-wheel drive and “drive ’em ’til they drop” dependability make them a popular choice for navigating our notoriously snowy winters. In Ohio this weekend, though, I can’t recall seeing a single Subaru, a car that my parents lump together with other “foreign” (meaning simultaneously “strange” and “un-American”) cars such as Fiats and Pugeots. (To this day I don’t think my Dad understands or has forgiven my sisters for buying “toy” cars, believing that the size of your car is directly connected to the respectability of your lifestyle.)

Years ago when we first moved to Beacon Hill, Chris and I (well, make that Chris) drove a passed-down Buick. In one of the more memorable moments of our marriage, we had driven–on New Year’s Eve, no less–the first hundred or so miles of the trip back to Ohio in a slowly dying Ford Tempo, intending to sell it when we arrived to pick up Chris’s grandmother’s old car. What made that New Year’s Eve so memorable is the fact that the Tempo’s heater coil was shot, so we had no heat…and the windows kept fogging with vaporized antifreeze. As we continually wiped down the windshield in order to see the icy surface of the Mass Turnpike ahead of us, that damn Tempo slowed several times to a dead, entire stop. After learning the hard way that AAA will not make service runs on the Turnpike, we (again, make that Chris) literally pushed that car into the nearest service plaza where a bottle of gas treatment (temporarily) fixed the problem and got us safely to Ohio.

Car as potting shed

Although that Ford Tempo was a junker, at least it tried to blend into the Beacon Hill neighborhood where we were living at the time. (Before you judge our investment portfolio by our then-address, let me hasten to add that we lived in a cramped, dimly-lit underground “garden flat” that was a carry-over from the days when Beacon Hillers had live-in servants.) When we arrived back in Boston with our boat-like Buick, we immediately realized why we’d never seen one cruising the streets of Beacon Hill: it was impossible to park. The street-yacht that had seemed so sensible on Ohio streets was all but entirely untenable in Boston…but Chris at least (briefly) relished the cachet of being the only person for miles around to be driving a “ghetto car.” All he needed was a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from his rearview mirror and a fur-upholstered steering wheel to complete the image of the ’90s latest white rapper: White Boy Slim, denizen of the mean streets of Beacon Hill.


I think my fascination with the old, decrepit, and seamy underbelly of places like Keene derives from my childhood in Columbus. Everyone naturally enjoys the beauty of a brand new, brightly shiny car…but there’s a certain genuine character about old junkers that contain so much of their owner’s personality (and stored belongings). Some have (rightly) argued that you can tell a lot about a person–or a family–by looking at the sorts of things they display on their refrigerator: those tacked-up soccer schedules, children’s drawings, and shopping lists communicate our truest, least primped selves, the things we really value, neighbors’ opinions notwithstanding. I’d take this notion a step further to argue that our cars say a great deal about who we are, what we value, and where we come from. The person who threw a blue tarp over their already-rusted car also has meticulously tended flowers in front of their bland, cookie-cutter house: they might not be able to afford a new BMW, Saab, or Volvo, but they try to make the best with what they can afford.

Foggy windows

In a place like Columbus, after all, people spend a good deal of time in their cars: the suburbs at least aren’t designed with pedestrians in mind, so the best way to navigate sprawl is behind the wheel of a vehicle. If you spend enough time in a car (and believe me, after yesterday’s all-day drive, I speak from experience), its metal hull becomes a kind of exoskeleton, a chrome and metallic excrescence of your own True Nature. In my case, I’m frugal and practical: although I rented a newer car to make the drive to and from Columbus, what I typically drive is a 1993 beat-up blue Subaru with 230,000 miles on the odometer and too much dog hair in the backseat. She ain’t pretty, my newly body-worked Little Tank, but she’ll get you there and back again no matter what the weather. Although my chosen make of car isn’t characteristically Ohioan, maybe the values behind that choice ultimately are.