Iidon’t know about anyone else, but I want to go back to a time when all I had to worry about was how to heat my home and feed my family. The other day my wife and I were invited to an engagement party thrown by my daughter’s friends in Medford, just outside of Boston.

It was an afternoon affair because the Patriot’s first play-off game was at 8 p.m. that evening. Things being what they are here in Patriot Nation, I sincerely believe that nothing short of a nuclear holocaust would have stopped the party from being anything other than an afternoon affair. My wife and I were picked up by our friends; a.k.a. future in-laws. This is an interesting story in itself because my wife and Ruth were friends long before my daughter met her future husband.

Some say they had something to do about it. Whatever the case, it’s very clear I have absolutely nothing to say about it. Our conversation, while we were driving to the party, concerned politics and how our nation is going through difficult times. We talked about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, governmental scandals, and how our freedoms are being eroded because of what has become a perpetual war on terror. I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to go back to a time when all I had to worry about was how to heat my home and feed my family.

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Tthere I stood looking up at a white mountain of snow that seemed to reach the sky. The snow was packed tight with pale blue facets in the crevices and the wind whipped a fine spray from the summit like Everest.

I was absolutely awestruck by its size and beauty and I wished like hell it wasn’t in the middle of my driveway!

The day after our first major snowstorm began with me trying to open my garage door. It took about half an hour, in sub zero temperatures, of me chipping away at the ice between the bottom of the door and the pavement that had sealed it shut like cement. When the door finally opened to reveal the spectacular winter vista before me my first thought was how beautiful it all was. It was like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy’s world turns from black and white to color – except in reverse.

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Tthe summer is now in its last weeks. My garden is exploding out of its confines. Normally this would be a big problem because the concept of throwing food out or letting it rot on the vine is not something any Italian can live with. I am fortunate enough to be married to a beautiful and talented wife.

As to how I managed to end up with here is beyond my comprehension but I am forever grateful for the miracles she can perform with fresh garden produce in the kitchen. For the past couple of months I have been enjoying some of the most remarkable meals ever produced by my garden. One of my favorites is called, ‘chombought.’

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Iiabsolutely adore waking up early in the morning because the spring air is always fresh and filled with the sounds of life. The birds fill the trees with their song and the bulbs of summer have sprouted long green shoots, promising imminent vistas of color and beauty. Even my lawn has bounced back from its glacial overcoat and turned from a freezer-burnt brown to a fresh new green.

Except for a little round patch that seems to be a hold out from the big chill of the winter just passed. I’m sure I can fix this with just a little fertilizer, I thought to myself. Then, a funny thing happened when I went out to get in my truck to go and got the fertilizer. As I walked past the brown circle on my lawn I thought I heard the sound of chewing. Since it was early in the morning and I was the only one around I thought my imagination must have been getting the better of me. When I returned home I noticed that the little circle of brown had doubled in size. Now I was worried.

I walked over to the growing brown spot on my lawn to see if I could figure out what the problem was. At first I thought it must be a favorite spot for the neighborhood dogs to do their business. But, why would it grow? Were the dogs bringing friends from other neighborhoods to have a round table discussion in order to figure out the problems of the canine world? As I contemplated this scenario I once again thought I heard the sound of chewing. Looking around I saw nothing that could have produced the sound.

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Iiknew every one of those people. I didn’t know their faces or their names but I knew them all. They were husbands and wives working hard to make their families comfortable. They were children whose hard work and perseverance made their parents.

They were also grandparents who were just about ready to enter a new stage of their lives doing something they had worked hard all their lives to be able to do. I still know them. I actually hated Paul Mann, the publisher of the Independent, when he called and asked me to revisit that day. I hated the concept of having to write about a time in my life when my soul was forced to change. Psychologists say many of us have changed because of that day. How the hell couldn’t you be?

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“I wonder what dirt tastes like?”
That was how I opened my first conversation with a cousin in my parent’s backyard over 50 years ago. My cousin and I had never said much to each other before that because we’d always been in the company of grown-ups but they had put us out in the backyard to play while they tried to have some kid-free time inside.

My cousin stared back at me blankly. Then he smiled, picked up a handful of dirt and shoved it in his mouth. From the instant look of horror on his face, the spitting and retching and the explosion of tears I realized that dirt was probably not something one should eat. The grown-ups all spilled out of the house to see what the problem was and I told them we were just talking.

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Wwebster defines the word ‘team’ as, “a number of persons associated in work or activity.” Corporate America or anyone working in public service stretched this term out to mean how their workforce should handle the problems and opportunities of their day.

In other words the term ‘team’ is a philosophy all workers should have when they go about the duties of their day. But, is this a good thing? The best way to answer this question is to look at some famous teams throughout history. I guess the most famous would be The Roman Empire. They decided the best way to handle conquering the world was to put everyone on their team in similar uniforms, get rid of anyone who disagreed with what the team stood for, and then force the rest of the world to either join their team or, well die.

This worked for awhile but the basic problem with a team is everyone wants to be the captain. If this doesn’t happen by the team rules the team is basically broken. In this case assassination was the most probable way of breaking the rule. The Roman Empire demonstrated the longer a team lasts the weaker it gets. I believe this is because everyone on the team is more interested in going along with the status quo instead of trying to change certain things and make the team better.

Ssince any variance away from team policies in the Roman Empire would lead to death I find it hard to blame anyone for not wanting to go along with the crowd. As we all know The Roman Empire is no longer but the team concept of their ancestors lives on in organizations like the Mafia and most large labor organizations.

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Tthe other day I arrived at school to have one of the custodians stop me in the hall and tell me, that if he had never seen in me in his life before, he would know right away that I was from Maine. I thought about my weather-beaten, salt-stained baseball cap that is now stuck permanently to my head, and wondered if that was a giveaway.

When I asked him how he would just ‘know’ I was from Maine he shrugged and said Mainers have a “distinctive” appearance. There was something about the way he said “distinctive” I wasn’t sure I liked, and it set me to thinking about what Mainers are supposed to look like.

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“What is a lapel?”
For a minute I couldn’t believe my ears. I had asked the young store clerk for a lapel button and she had no idea what a lapel was.

If there ever is a sign of growing old it is discovering that words and meanings and symbols we have used all our lives are now unknown to the generation that will soon replace us. My wife and I were in the Fox Run Mall looking for a small lapel pin in the form of a peace symbol. I thought they might make a neat Christmas gift as we head into the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. As I searched, my wife trailed exasperatedly after me reminding me that, once again, that I was living in the past.

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Ii was talking to a colleague the other day about how education policies are driving many great veteran teachers out because they can no longer cope with the bureaucracy that is strangling a profession they have always loved and thought important.

She then told me this evolution was probably good because it allowed new blood into our profession. She ended her response by stating it is sometimes good to make lemons out of lemonade. She then quickly tried to correct her statement but I told her the original comment was very true. Walking back to my room I started to think about other instances when situations sounded remarkably good only to turn out to be remarkably bad.

Since I am a teacher the first program I thought of was the ‘No Child Left Behind’ education program our nation instituted five years ago. How could a name like ‘No Child Left Behind’ be a bad thing? Five years after the program started our education system is being buried in testing, data collecting, impossible standards that will drive most of our schools into failure, and the possibility our public education system that is still the envy of the world may just cease to exist. As I stated before many of our best teachers are being driven from their profession because of this program.

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