Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

i guess i was punk once


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New Bike Lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard

I won’t lie, this post was probably going to be a bit snarky until the universe set my inner jackass straight by only showing me lovely things on my ride. I had a meeting this morning in the Acre, a neighborhood I haven’t really had a chance to ride through since we moved (it used to be a part of my daily commute.) While I would usually have ridden to my destination via Merrimack or Salem Street, today I decided to check out the new bike lanes on Fr. Morissette Blvd.

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All I ever wanted…

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I recently returned from my annual trip to Wellfleet, MA with my friends Katy and Yovani. I really look forward to this trip every year because it is always so lovely to relax in one of the loveliest places in the world with some of my favorite people, but this year, I really, like really, needed a vacation. Between buying a house, moving, a couple of big things happening at work, hosting houseguests, and Gist’s job being pretty intense, I was pretty fried and ready to stare at the sea for a good amount of time to relax and recharge. And relax and recharge is pretty much what we did.

There was a lot of staring at the Atlantic…
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And watching the sun set, and moon rise (we were there for the supermoon) over Wellfleet Harbour…
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We had a couple of wonderful special guests: Katy’s four-week-old son, who was a delight, and Abby, Katy’s mom (also a delight!)

Katy and I jumped off of Provincetown Pier to, as Yovani said “reclaim our lost youth.” LOL ;-)

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We ate and drank very well…

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There was beachcombing and swimming, storms and seals…
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We looked at that amazing light…
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And we did a lot of reading….
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It was basically just the very thing I needed in my life.

Now that I’m home, Gist and I have been working on the yard, especially the corner that Gist calls “Crazy Country” and that I call “Paradise.”
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My yard ornament/solar-powered light collection is growing by leaps and bounds! And the birds (and squirrels) have figured out that we are the suckers who will feed them any and all of the types of food.
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We’ve both loved having a yard this summer – it’s great for the dogs, I get to indulge my love of tacky yard ornaments, Gist loves doing yard work (who knew?) and I really love cooking outside!

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In fact, our big plans for Independence Day include cooking outside (and relaxing in the hammock, of course!)

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Seeing Lowell through new eyes…

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For the past few days (most of) my brothers and my sister-in-law have been staying with us right here in Lowell. As is the Gries tradition, I took them on a tourist death-march (aka see all the sights you possibly can in your limited time in any location) around Lowell. Not only was it super-fun to see and spend time with everyone, it was also great to experience the loveliness of Lowell through their eyes (and through the magic of instagram, of course ;-) ) Living here everyday, I often forget what an interesting place Lowell is.

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Bob really wanted to drink some Moxie on his trip to New England and he was really excited to learn that Moxie was invented in Lowell!

My brothers’ instagrams of Lowell (and everything else) can be found here and here.


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Chickens in Lowell?

I don’t normally write about political issues on my little patch of the internet, preferring to use this space to talk about and explore my interests. So generally the topics here are pretty much kept in the cooking/eating/beer drinking/biking/dog owning/knitting/frittering/vacationing sphere. Strangely enough, one of my interests – allowing Lowellians to keep backyard hens for eggs – has become the hot political topic right here in Lowell (I know what you are thinking, “Marianne, you must live in an urban paradise where issues such as crime, the economy, and unemployment don’t need to be addressed, but instead the big debate is over eggs…”)

Way back in October, I was interviewed by our local, online arts magazine, Howl in Lowell, about why I supported an ordinance that would allow my neighbors to own back yard hens.

When I blogged about the video, I mentioned that my interest in this issue is purely selfish: I want all my neighbors to raise hens and share their delicious eggs with me. While that is obviously true, it was also a bit flip and didn’t really address why exactly, especially as someone who has no interest in owning chickens of my own, I think that my neighbors should have the freedom (with limits) to raise hens.

I first learned about the issue of backyard hens through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition (LFSC.) In conduction the Community Food Assessment, we learned that many residents want more options to produce their own food, including chickens. Through my work with the LFSC, I got involved with the Lowell Backyard Chicken Group. The Backyard Chicken Group has been researching chicken ordinances throughout the country, and has put together a suggestion for an ordinance that makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense because it addresses many of the issues that have come up throughout this chicken kerfuffle (as I’m calling it.)

The suggestions proposed by the group are based on over a year’s worth of research, and include limiting the number of hens that can be kept based on yard size, banning roosters because they are noisy and unnecessary for egg production, and creating a peer-support and resource network to help residents learn about the pros and cons of raising their own hens and to provide education and support to each other. That makes sense to me.

Another thing that makes sense to me? Promoting opportunities to empower residents, increase their self-sufficiency, and make our community more sustainable. Backyard chickens do that. In closing, I am posting a copy of the letter that I sent to all of the members of the Lowell City Council (and I promise that my next post will be back to the usual biking/cooking/eating/knitting/beer drinking/dog walking/home improving shenanigans ;-) )

Dear Councilors,

I am writing to support the ordinance that would allow Lowell residents to keep backyard hens for personal use. I first learned of the issue of raising hens in Lowell through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition. As a member of the Lowell FSC, I worked with local organizations and community members to complete the Lowell Community Food Assessment, a community wide study of the food resources and needs in the City of Lowell which can be found online here: http://lowellfoodsecurity.wordpress.com/lowell-community-food-assessment/the-lowell-community-food-assessment-report/. In talking to Lowell residents, the Lowell FSC learned that people want more options for producing their own food, which includes raising chickens.

I think that the ordinance that the Backyard Chicken Group is proposing makes a lot of sense for Lowell. It addresses issues like yard size and overcrowding, noise (roosters are banned,) and the group is planning to set up a resource network for residents interested in raising hens for eggs to help ensure that everything is done in a safe and sanitary manner. The group has done a lot of research on the issue and has looked at ordinances in similarly dense areas like Somerville, MA and Brooklyn, NY.

Chickens help reduce city waste – they eat food scraps and their manure can be composted and used to fertilize soil. Chickens also eat nuisance insects like ticks and slugs. There is no evidence that backyard hens reduce property values, in fact some of the urban areas with the highest property values in the nation allow backyard hens. Backyard hens also give people the ability to produce their own food, and the eggs pack a higher nutritional punch than supermarket eggs, even organic ones. Chickens pose less of a risk for the spread of salmonella then reptiles, which are currently legal in Lowell, and they do not attract any more types of wildlife than those that are attracted by backyard bird feeders, also not against the law.

I am in support of this ordinance because it gives homeowners more choices as to what they do on their land, because it increases self-sufficiency among our residents, because it increases sustainability, and because it can be used as a tool to educate our children as to where food comes from. Also, the eggs just plain taste better.

Sincerely yours,

Marianne Gries


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WPA Sidewalks

Sidewalk plaque discovered on my evening stroll.

Walking around my new neighborhood is quite different from walking around my old neighborhood. Our walks used to take us along a busy boulevard on the Merrimack River, our walks now are around an older residential neighborhood (or, urban-suburbia, as I’m calling it) complete with old trees, children playing in the streets, and sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks have these Work Projects Administration plaques, I love coming across them when I am walking the pups.

Another Lowell WPA sidewalk found on my afternoon dog walk.


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New beginnings!

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But first I’ll tie up some loose ends, *ahem* 30 Days of Biking. I didn’t ride every day in April, and I’m not even sure I know/paid attention to how many days I missed. This is the last picture I took, but I know I took at least two rides after this was taken. The end of April was, as I knew it would be, incredibly busy and necessitated a car.

First up was a big work event on April 27th, Sowing the Seeds of Community. A group of amazing local organizations partnered to fundraise for, plan, and execute a community garden build day at six sites throughout Lowell.

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We improved five sites (four of them were new builds) in four neighborhoods, with the help of over 125 volunteers (even Kristin helped!) It was a lot of work but a really amazing and awesome event.

At the site that I helped coordinate, we built 26 raised beds, moved six dump trucks of compost (> 30 yards,) in about six hours.

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Once that was finished, I had some time to work on my next big April event…

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Getting ready to move!

Way back in early February, Kristin and I decided we wanted to buy a house (instead of a condo.) This was a long discussion but Simon and Rudy were the deciding factors – we thought they’d love a yard (yes, we *are* those crazy dog ladies!)

We had taken an excellent First-time Homebuyer’s Class so we knew the importance of putting together a good team. We found a great agent and mortgage broker, got pre-approved, browsed some houses online, and had our first showings the first weekend of March. We planned to give ourselves three months to look and we expected to buy something in July or August. That didn’t happen.

We looked at five houses on Saturday but didn’t love anything. Our agent suggested we go to an open house the next day. We agreed, thinking “Our first open house, fun! We’ll get to know the process.” Of course, because we had plenty of time scheduled to look and we were only going to the open house as a lark, we found it. And put a bid in. That very day.

We decided we were going to close on April 30th so we had plenty of time to get our inspection, fill out tons of paperwork, and anticipate. By the time our closing date came around, we were more than ready. The closing went quickly, our deed was registered, and *poof* we we’re homeowners!

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Of course, Simon and Rudy approve…

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So do we! We’ve spent our first night here and already love the place.

One of the first things we bought was patio furniture and we’ve already been enjoying it (when we’ll get real furniture is a whole nother story, I anticipate an empty living room for months to come ;-) )

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And you can look forward to lots of posts about the joys of home improvements ;-)

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