the count, how we do small-town democracy

a piece of paper with a few lists of numbers handwritten on it. Some are circled.

We’re revving up for town meeting day (Saturday) and as someone on the Board of Civil Authority (the chair, actually) there are a few little pre-voting tasks. Voting is on Tuesday. One of them is checking the tabulator. This involves sending sample ballots through and making sure the machine counts correctly and operates correctly. It’s a bit of a slog but also kind of interesting. Our town has four main ballots which everyone votes: presidential (pick a party), local (i.e. the school region which includes three towns), and the town. The town staff fill out fake ballots including stuff like slightly under- or over-filled circles, a few write-ins, and then they go through the tabulator. This is pretty straightforward though there is a bit of “Check to make sure this number on this little tag is the same as I’m writing in the book when I unlock this part of the machine” stuff which feels a little performative but maybe that’s because we’ve been really lucky to not have people angrily contesting any of our elections.

The next part, however, is to hand count the ten ballots in each category. This seems like it would be simple but in point of fact, it’s weirdly hard. The candidate ballots are straightforward. But then there are local funding issues, questions similar to “Should we give $1000 to the food shelf?” and similar. This is a two-sided ballot in which the numbering starts at 2, continues to 3 and 4, and then hops to eight, and then counts up to 25. So twenty-one separate items on which people vote yes or no. I count them. A representative from the “other party” (I am registered as a Democratic candidate as a JP, I’m planning to run as an Independent this year) also counts them. If our numbers don’t match–and in this picture you can see that I’ve boxed the ones where our counts did not match–we count them again. Only one of these non-matching counts was mine, but I was really hoping for zero.

Meanwhile there is an adorable child nearby doing adorable (but noisy) child things and it’s like my kryptonite “Count these numbers while you hear random noises.” Also it’s late, not in relative terms but late in the day for me to be doing brain stuff. It takes about ninety minutes, time that is definitely after the town clerk’s usual work day would end and he’s remarkably gracious about it. At the end of it, we’ve checked that our numbers match both each other’s and the ones the machine spits out. The sample ballots get locked in some special place where they sit for sixty days in case someone wants to check our work.

I’ve been dialing back a little bit of my participation in non-work stuff lately. Having a new job has made me want to carve out my volunteer time differently. I’m stepping down after my term on the American Library Association Council–a little more about that here–and I’m stepping down from my position on the Conservation Commission after eight years. I strongly believe that small towns only work, only get to keep working, because of the many volunteers who do the small jobs that in other, larger places would be done by paid staff. Whenever I meet new people in town I’m one of those people who asks how they’re going to get involved with the town. If they don’t have ideas I can usually suggest some. I look forward to voting day(s) every year. Not only am I usually running for Justice of the Peace (that happens in November) but I get to see most of my neighbors and do some quick catch up with them. Town Meeting Day and Voting Day show us in all our winter gear, not quite used to being around people or being outside our winter dens. I get to wear a little name tag and help make democracy easier for people. I’m glad to be able to do it.

wraps up V

the same plant as from the previous few years still has purple flowers, has many fewer leaves

The wrap-ups of the wrap-ups are now their own thing! You can view past wrap-ups here: 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. Here’s what was up for 2023.

  • libraries visited – no new libraries which is probably fine
  • books read – fewer books is a better outcome
  • places stayed – I’ve been enjoying not really going anywhere, though I was happy to get a chunk of time in Westport
  • I stopped keeping track of “other events” which I think is fine. Like I did until February and then for some reason I just stopped.

I’ve now completely moved over to Mastodon and I like it there. I have an account on Bluesky which I use a lot less often.

Big news this time around is that I have one new regular job which is that I do community management for the Flickr Foundation, working with the folks in Flickr Commons. It’s tricky work because most of the organizations which have accounts there have been left on their own for years. There are a lot of accounts which are dormant or in some cases not really known about by the people who currently work for the organization. We’re trying to meet with those folks and talk to them and also bring in new people. It’s challenging work but also enjoyable. Thanks for reading.

my year in cities and towns, 2023

An antique bed with a lot of blankets on it and two folded comforters. There is a small black cat sleeping on it.

I am enjoying staying put. No hotels at all. I did spend ten days down at my dad’s place (which needs a better name since my dad has been dead since 2011 and if I tell people about it who don’t know me well they think I’m going to go and see my dad and that is not what is happening) doing some unpacking of my mom’s stuff. What a journey! But useful. Saw my sister a few times which was great and she came up here which was even maybe a little bit better. I hope you got out as much as you wanted to last year. RIP Hank, you were a great cat.

Past years: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.

skunk haiku

snowy ground with some skunk tracks lightly on it

Skunk in snow, black stripe
moves to driveway, turns into
two furry white stripes.

well well well

Photograph of a piece of paper from a three-ring binder showing the location of the house's well.

I was going to title this “The kid is back!” because I have now successfully been away from my home for more than just one or two overnights, first time since 2019. Not sure this is a huge accomplishment but it feels huge to me because I’ve not only become a bit of a homebody but also, like many people, experienced a real change in how my life works both since COVID started but also since buying a house. I haven’t been down to my dad’s house for more than a day or two in far too long. There is some deferred maintenance there, putting it mildly, and also the boxes packed from my Mom’s house, a house which now belongs to some nice family who seem to be taking good care of it. How nice.

So it was a holiday week and then a work week and then a “work on unpacking those boxes” week. In one of them, I found an old three-ring binder that had a story. And after reading this recent blog post about Writing Documentation For Your Home I decided to write that story down.

I assume people know but in case you don’t: my mom passed away in 2017. We sold her house, the house I grew up in, finally in January of this year. This was mostly fine. She was always like “Eh live your life, don’t keep my house if you don’t want it.” and we didn’t, so we didn’t. One of the things we needed to do in order to sell the house was get the water tested. To do this we needed to find the house’s well. NO ONE knew where the well was. We had a vague idea but no specific notion. No living person remembered. No documentation existed anywhere obvious. We just Paid a Guy With An Excavator to figure it out. It went fine. We had to do a bunch of other work and I know Kate and I are very happy that’s all behind us.

But back to this week. I am at my dad’s place, the house we DID keep (he died in 2011) and as I’m unpacking one-of-many boxes I find a three-ring binder completely FULL of documentation. It had maybe been in the basement of my mom’s house, it had all the early plans for all the renovations my dad did back when they lived together up til about 1981 or so. She just put that stuff in a file cabinet and, I presume, forgot about it. All that stuff got moved to my dad’s and slowly unpacked. I found it about 18 months too late.

I bought my own house in August 2022. I have all the manuals which I keep in a folder or as PDFs on my computer. I have a list of all the major fixit work I’ve had done, and who did the work. I’m still maybe not cut out to be a homeowner but I do feel like I’m at least doing that part well.

Virgo month of enforced leisure

In this color illustrated postcard, a snake is curled around a bottle marked with a skull and crossbones. It is facing a rabbit, which appears to be sick, with its tongue hanging out and lying under a white blanket. The background of the card is light blue, with a portion of a gold circle in the lower right-hand corner and gold rays eminating from it across the card. The snake and rabbit are on a red background. In the upper right corner, behind the rabbit there is a gold spider web.

So the Virgo Month of Leisure is wrapping up, an on-again off-again so-called holiday which I usually “celebrate” by doing something very complicated or time-consuming because I am me. This year I got COVID. And as these things go I was very lucky.

  • Lucky that I knew when I got it (at the library, from someone coughing on me) and so I was able to stay home and not infect anyone else
  • Lucky that I had tests at home and was able to confirm that I had it.
  • Lucky that I had access to both telemedicine and my local doctor so I was able to get Paxlovid even though I’m only somewhat eligible.
  • Lucky that I didn’t have Paxlovid rebound and found the metallic taste in my mouth manageable.
  • Lucky that my friends and neighbors stepped UP so I wanted for nothing except better health.
  • Lucky that my infection was brief (maybe four days of feeling pretty terrible) and didn’t include a scary cough and/or breathing problems because I am extremely anxious about that sort of thing.
  • Lucky that I had a lot of tests at home so I could test a few times and know I was safe to go out once my symptoms (fever, aches, lethargy) subsided.
  • Lucky that I was feeling mostly better by my actual birthday and, despite having to skip getting together with Jim over Labor Day weekend, we did have a very nice make-up birthday weekend the next weekend and fit in all of our favorite things.

The woman I got it from is likewise okay though she had a much rougher time of it. While I certainly have a lot of complaints about how COVID response is being handled nationally (go get your vaccination! free tests available September 25th!) my local response both personally and institutionally was not bad. I am happy to be better just in time to wave goodbye to the Virgo Month of Leisure. Better luck next year, me!

my circuit board home

a blue gary house, shown from the back corner with white tubes snaking along various parts of it. There is a man on a ladder

So I got heat pumps. Which is a weird thing to call them because, while they do pump in heat in the winter, in the summertime they pump in cold. I am just calling them “the chillers” for now. When I got a new toilet installed right after I moved in, the plumber I called (Walker Plumbing and Heating!) mentioned he also did heat pumps. I filed that news away for later and took care of a bunch of more immediate issues like getting a couch and upgrading some electrical stuff (and removing the power meter that was only for the hot water heater). But this spring, when temps hit 90° very briefly and the upstairs of my place became an oven and when I saw my plumber moving up and down the nearby streets installing heat pumps, I gave him a call. I expected this would be one of those “Call now to set up an appointment for November.” things but instead he was ready in a few weeks.

This house is quirky. In all the rooms but one, the window screens don’t move. This means that even if you want window AC units, you can’t have them unless you climb up the outside of the house to remove the screens. When people ask “Why is this weird back room your bedroom?” one of the answers is “It was where I could put an AC unit in.” Another answer of course, is “Have you MET me?” One of the back rooms had no heat in it at all. Now it does. Now my office can be less than 85° when I’m trying to work. And maybe Jim and I can watch TV without being under the electric blanket in the winter. Maybe.

The thing I did not really think about is the extent to which the outside of my house was going to be showing off more of its infrastructure now. I consider myself incredibly lucky that the pipes (or pipe covers, really) match the trim. I’m definitely leaning in to the fact that the house looks like a weird circuit board. People say about the pipe covers “You can paint them!” but realistically we all know I will not.

As someone who grew up completely without air conditioning (and, if I am being honest, without enough heat) I do not really know how to use it besides making my bedroom cold enough that I can actually get to sleep. It all feels very Queen-of-England to me to have access to this sort of technology, even as I regularly make use of all sorts of bonkers-style internet communication in my day to day life that was almost inconceivable to kid-me. The chillers are on the internet. I may take them off of it.