Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

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More about bikes…

MassDOT tweeted about a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Awareness and Enforcement Program that was announced today. The program is going to give cities money to make transportation for all users safer. The funding will be used to help pay for stepped-up enforcement, raising awareness about all forms of transportation, and creating safer infrastructure. Twelve communities have been chosen for the first round of funding with Haverhill representing for the Merrimack Valley.

I would love to see some of this money come to Lowell, but I won’t be holding my breath. Opportunities for funding such as this seem to be the wave of the future, and it’s quite disappointing to see my city sliding backwards (and potentially cutting itself off from funding opportunities in the process.)

I am also hoping to attend the City Council meeting to discuss why I think bike lanes are important, but just in case I can’t make it, I did send the following letter to the City Council:

Dear Councilors,

I am writing in regard to the motion to remove bike lanes from local streets. I do not support this motion.

I have lived in Lowell for ten years. I have worked in Lowell for seven years. I own a home in Lowell. I am active in the community: I am a Pollard Library Trustee, I volunteer for local organizations, and I participated in Public Matters. I am also a bike commuter who uses the bike lanes to ride to work; to PML meetings and events; to volunteer activities; to visit local restaurants, bars, and shops; and to visit my friends. Basically anything I am doing, I am doing via bicycle.

Safety is important to me and it makes me happy that I live in a city that is concerned for my safety on a bicycle. Since the bike lanes were painted a couple of years ago, I have felt much safer riding my bike in Lowell than I did in the past. I have found that drivers are more aware of my presence and less likely to find it strange or shocking that I am on the road. I have also found that the response that I get from drivers has been positive. People wave to me and say hello. Maybe I have been lucky, but most drivers have been friendly and polite (although they are a bit amazed when they see me riding in winter.)

I watch the City Council meetings most Tuesday evenings and I know that a couple of hot topics of conversation have been parking issues downtown and economic development. Now, I am obviously not an expert on either of these issues but I can speak to my personal experience with both. As far as parking issues downtown are concerned, well, I don’t have any. I lock my bike up and head to my destination. I am not taking up a coveted parking space that someone else could be using and I am not contributing to traffic. Because I am on a bike, I am also eating, drinking, and shopping at places that are easy for me to get to on my bike. Instead of heading to Nashua, Salem, or Burlington to spend my disposable income, I am dining out in Lowell’s restaurants, drinking in Lowell’s bars, and shopping in Lowell’s stores. I even get my bikes serviced locally at City Bicycle on Market Street.

Having a variety of ways to get from one place to another, including transit, pedestrian, cycle, and, yes, automobile infrastructure have helped other cities in both the Untied States and Europe alleviate parking and congestion issues and increase economic development. I think that instead of doing away with the bike lanes, our city should look to what bike lanes can do to help us with our parking and economic development issues.

If you would like to discuss this issue, or even go for a bike ride, I would be happy to hear from you.

Marianne Gries

If you’re local and want to support the bike lanes, please consider contacting the City Council. The City’s website has a handy form that can be accessed here, the last item under the Department Facts tab on the left.

Thanks to Learning Lowell, Left in Lowell, and for your thoughtful posts on both the bike lanes and the Sun kerfuffle. I haven’t heard anything from the Sun and I can’t say I am particularly surprised. It’s easy to steal things from the internet and it seems the Sun is not immune to that temptation which is obviously really unfortunate.

In other news, I did get this text from a friend who lives in Long Beach:” We love bikes in Long Beach.”20140428-123720.jpg

Lowell has embraced Long Beach’s awesome Cambodia Town idea, maybe we’ll soon be embracing their Bike Long Beach idea. Bike Lowell has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?



Oh, Lowell… (Or, why I’m afraid we’re not ready to have nice things…)


Our (obviously very classy) local paper, The Lowell Sun, stole a (pretty crappy, taken with my mobile phone) picture from this post praising our bike lanes to illustrate an article condemning said lanes. No, the irony is not lost on me. Stay classy, Sun.


Post edited to add that the picture was also used in the print edition. Hey, it got me to buy a paper, right :-/


Addison Gallery of American Art

January 4th 2013
On Saturday I went out to Andover to visit the Addison Gallery of American Art for the first time. The reason for the visit was to see ‘the kids are all right’ because my sister-in-law, Julie, has two photographs in the show. I am really glad that I both got to see the show (it was the last day – hello, procrastinator!) and visit the museum.

The Addison is a small museum on the Phillips Academy campus. It, as the name suggests, features American art. When I visited, there were four exhibitions – Flash Back—November 22, 1963, James Prosek: The Spaces in Between, Natural Selections, and the kids are all right. I enjoyed all four, but was especially impressed with James Proseck and the kids are all right.

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Using the 19th

Election Day 2013

“I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.” ~Susan B. Anthony

“The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect and self-reliance,and make the next generation more vigorous of mind and body; for feeble mothers do not produce great statesmen, scientists and scholars.” ~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Election Day 2013

I was obviously thrilled to be able to ride my bicycle to the polls to vote this morning. As I was riding, I thought about the women who came before me and worked to secure so many of the rights I enjoy today. Imagine how happy Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be to see me riding my bicycle, wearing practical clothing of my own choice, to vote in an election with seven women on the ballot. So, friends, if you have an election today get out and vote.

If you’re interested in learning more about women’s suffrage, bicycles, and how they connect, I recommend A Wheel Within a Wheel by Frances E. Willard and Wheels of Change by Sue Macy. A Wheel Within a Wheel is a first-hand account of suffragette Frances Willard’s experience taking up bicycle riding at 53 (badass!) Wheels of Change is meant for younger readers but it provides a great overview the impact cycling had women’s lives and contains a lot of primary source material.


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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Seeing Lowell through new eyes…


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.












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.


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: 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!

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.

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.

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

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!

Of course, Simon and Rudy approve…



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 😉 )

And you can look forward to lots of posts about the joys of home improvements 😉