e-Life Advisor

Helpful information regarding your Electronic life- all the computers, smartphones, tablets, home entertainment and internet tools you rely on to be productive and entertained.

By Charlie Hoover of Geek Housecalls  |

Summer is rapidly coming to an end and that means it’s time for families to turn their attention towards preparing for school. Every year, back-to-school preparation seems to become an increasingly more complicated process and technology is an important, yet stressful, part of the back-to-school checklist. To help relieve some of this stress, I’ve chosen a couple of questions this month that focus on back-to-school issues.

John from Lexington asks: “I just bought a couple of cheap netbooks for my two teens for school. I discovered that they don’t seem to have any software for them to do homework (write papers, etc). I’d prefer to not spend much money, if possible. Any ideas?”

Yes, there are actually several great services available. I’ll be focusing on Googles’ product here, but there are other options like LibreOffice that I’ll go into detail about on our Blog [http://geekhousecalls.com/Blog/tabid/82/entryid/200/eLifeAdvisorAugust2012.aspx] I also recommend checking with the school(s) regarding software requirements or purchasing deals with companies like Microsoft. There are often discounted rates for students that make software more affordable.

My favorite recommendation is a service called Google Docs (drive.google.com). It’s a suite of Internet-based applications that lets you create documents, spreadsheets and presentations from any web browser. The service is free so all they’ll need is a Google account. Because it’s based in the ‘Cloud’, data isn’t stored on their computer directly and everything is automatically backed up as they work. This means that if their computer dies (even in mid-sentence), they simply log onto their account from any machine to finish their work without losing any data. Files can also be shared with others for live collaboration, making it a great solution for big projects. You can use this feature to track their progress and even help them with their homework remotely. It’s a perfect solution for busy families!

Beth from Lexington asks; “My son is starting high school and I’m thinking about getting him an iPad to help with his school work but I’m on the fence about the expense. Do you think its worth investing in one at his age? Is there a good cheap alternative? ”

You aren’t alone in asking this question Beth. It comes up a lot and to be honest it’s a very personal decision so giving a solid answer is tricky. Many schools are adopting iPads as an alternative to laptops, so you may want to check with the school on what their plans (if any) might entail. The iPad is a powerful and flexible tool for doing everything from homework and reading to playing games and watching movies. It’s also possible to enable parental controls to limit what it can do, which is one of the reasons schools are loving them so much .

If your main concern is the expense, there are numerous lower-cost alternatives. The ‘Nexus 7’ is my current favorite non-Apple tablet; it’s less than half the price (roughly $200), very powerful, more portable (its physically smaller which is great for smaller hands) and has access to a similar collection of apps. It’s an amazing deal for the price .

In the end there has never been a better time to be a curious kid and the specific device isn’t as important as what they get out of it. After all, the tools available to them are the stuff of science fiction! Both devices will give them access to reference material from around the world, interactive learning, productivity tools, and yes even games. Whichever you choose though, I also recommend buying a hardened case for it like the ‘Otterbox’ to protect your investment. Even the best intentioned kid can have an accident and gravity is very unforgiving to mobile devices.

Thanks John & Beth for sending in your questions. If you have an e-Life problem or concern of your own, you can contact me via email (elife@geekhousecalls.com), Facebook (facebook.com/geekhousecalls) or Twitter (@elifeadvisor). I look forward to helping you!


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Love like Libby’s

Ana Flaster

By Ana Hebra Flaster

She still pees the same. Everyone asks Libby about this when they hear she donated one of her healthy kidneys in order to improve her dying husband’s odds of receiving one himself. Libby tries to reassure them. She wants the world to know: if your loved one ever faces a years-long wait on an organ donation list, you can speed things along by becoming a donor. “They’re amazed when I tell them: I don’t need to pee any more or any less than before, and the whole thing was easier than recovering from labor.”

But of course, “the whole thing” was never easy, not by a long shot. The “whole thing” was a six-year slog through a medical system that at times seemed to be killing her husband in order to save him. In the first four years of treatments, Libby watched her husband go from a burly 260 pound 40 year-old man to a 125 pound dying one, even though he never once saw himself that way.

Skip’s problems began with an odd ache in his feet, which a podiatrist diagnosed in 2002 as plantar fasciitis. Orthotics didn’t help, and after a year a new problem appeared: pin prick sized spots on his legs that sometimes grew to the size of quarters, but always hurt, “like someone stabbing him with a fork,” recalls Libby. A dermatologist treated him for vasculitis, but another year went by and things only got worse. By 2004, a new dermatologist ran tests that detected protein in Skip’s urine. His kidneys were in trouble.

Enter a nephrologist, a hematologist, a cardiologist—all strategizing as the still-unknown illness progressed from major organ to major organ. After three courses of chemotherapy and several weekly courses of plasma pharesis, Skip’s kidneys finally failed. He went on dialysis, continued with plasma pharesis and then a stem cell transplant. Everything aimed at keeping him alive long enough and then well enough to have a shot at a new kidney.

Each doctor’s visit, diagnosis, medicine and dose, side effect and improvement appears in Libby’s neat handwriting in the notebook she shows me as we talk about those years. She points to one page where she wrote the name of one of the chemo drugs Skip took. “That was a bad—a really, really bad drug,” Libby says, and her blue eyes turn away from mine for a moment. She stares into the distance and shakes her head. The notebook is still open; her finger starts to tap hard over the name of the bad, bad drug that almost killed Skip.

We’re outside a Lexington Starbucks on a clear spring afternoon, a soft breeze moves through Libby’s blonde hair as she picks up her story again. I’m struck by the strength that emanates from her soft voice as she calmly describes the unimaginable pain of those years, of planning her husband’s eulogy, of wondering how she’d find a suit that would fit his skeletal frame for the burial, of agreeing to Skip’s request for the black Ford F150 pickup he’d been eyeing, thinking to herself, “how can I deny this man anything.” She almost whispers the story, as if telling a secret from a past life.

The family’s many friends helped, of course, with lasagna dinners, interpreting medical-ese at appointments, driving Skip to and from dialysis sessions—but it’s clear that Libby shouldered most of the burden in those years. She drove Skip in the early mornings to his dialysis appointments, went to her day job, stopped by the hospital in the afternoon to see Skip, went to her second job and came home at ten to tend to the couple’s three sons, laundry, lunches for the next day, maybe a late-night stint with homework.

Mostly, though, Libby was Skip’s unflappable wingman. She shrugs off my comment about her strength. “Oh, no. Skip was my rock. He never doubted he’d recover. He saved me.” But it was Libby who asked the toughest questions at Skip’s appointments, so much so that one of them referred to her as a “bulldog.” He meant it to sting, and it did, but Libby had bigger problems to solve. Sometimes she needed to search for elusive doctors in the hospital cafeteria till she found them, took them to Skip’s bedside, and got him the attention he needed. She cajoled the doctors into signing off on a stem cell transplant that some were reluctant to approve on their own, knowing Skip’s survival odds were dismal. Her argument to them: He’s going to die anyway; this is his only chance. If Dr. X, signs off, would you? On one particularly bleak day, when Skip was in critical condition in an upstairs ward, she waited by the hospital’s main entrance, knowing the doctor they’d been waiting for all day was likely to use it at the end of his day. When she saw him coming, she stood up. “Where do you think you’re going?” she asked. She reminded him about all her calls and messages, of how sick her husband was, and, slowly, the doctor turned around and changed course. He examined Skip, approved more treatments then left for the day. The next morning he took himself off the case. “At least Skip got what he needed from him. That’s all I cared about,” Libby says.

By late 2007, Skip was healthy enough to go on the kidney transplant list although the wait could be years; one family member was a match but was later medically disqualified. Then, at a support group meeting, Libby heard a wife describe how she’d successfully donated a kidney to “a pool” and it sped up her husband’s wait on the transplant list. Libby immediately began working with NEPKE, New England Paired Kidney Exchange. In May 2008 Libby donated one of her healthy kidneys. A month later, on Father’s Day, the hospital called with the news: they had a donor match for Skip.

The jubilation in the house erupted in tears and whoops of joy. Their oldest son heard the shouts and ran into the house, sure something was wrong. When Libby told him the news, he fell to his knees and wept. Ironically, Skip was so focused on a T.V. golf broadcast that he asked if the hospital needed him to go right away. “YES,” Libby cried. “NOW!”

Libby’s smile lights up the air around her as she remembers that final miracle in the story. Then she tells me about the chair, a green Lazy Boy Barcalounger that Skip practically lived in all those years of his illness. “Jimmy had to write an essay in school—sophomore year, I think. He wrote about the first time he fell in love. Guess what he wrote about? How much he loved that green chair because it held and comforted his father when he was sick.”

That’s one kind of love, of a caring son for an ailing father. Another is a love like Libby’s. A love that never stopped fighting for a solution and, in this case, found a way to save a life.

Ana Hebra Flaster is a freelance writer and Lexington resident. Ana’s work has been featured on NPR and the Boston Globe.


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Living the e-Life

Helpful information regarding your Electronic life- all the computers, smartphones, tablets, home entertainment and internet tools you rely on to be productive and entertained.

By Charlie Hoover  |   Senior e-Life Technologist at Geek Housecalls, Inc.

The Colonial Times is starting a new column this month focused on improving your everyday life via technology; aka your “e-Life.” -Geek Housecalls is ready to help you setup, repair or learn about all the computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, net connected TVs & appliances, software, apps, WiFi and Internet access you rely on to be productive and entertained.

What is e-Life?

e-Life is a term used to describe how all of your technology related devices combine into one personalized ecosystem. More and more companies are releasing devices that work together with other technology devices. For example: Updating your calendar on your phone and having it appear on your computer, or using your iPad to control your entire home automation system.

The promises of e-Life are compelling.

For example: Smoothly running computers, kept up-to-date and virus free, with all key data safely backed up for peace of mind. Changing an appointment or contact on one device automatically updates it across all of your laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets. Cutting the cable cord and enjoying inexpensive Internet-based entertainment on the TV in your living room. Lastly, the ability to control appliances in your home, even when you are not there.

The reality of e-Life is often problematic.

These e-Life systems are often on the cutting edge, so keeping them trouble-free is challenging and time consuming. Furthermore, the technology systems rely on multiple vendors who blame each other when something goes wrong. When your smartphone doesn’t sync to your computer, for example, it is so easy for the phone maker to blame the computer manufacturer who can just as easily blame the cloud service provider, etc. You get the idea, especially if you have been stuck in this black hole at some point.

So, how does e-Life apply to me?

We utilize technology in almost every aspect of our daily lives; for personal life, family life, home entertainment, hobbies, interests, sports, education, staying in touch, business, and so on. Your e-Life is the conscious realization that technology should work with you seamlessly and in a beneficial way as you move across your daily roles. Since technology is such an integral part in each aspect of our lives, we need to be certain that we are using it to our best advantage. There may be some untapped resources in your electronic life that once revealed and learned, will be an extraordinary improvement to your daily life.

What is this column going to discuss?

This monthly column is going to be in a Question-and-Answer format. We will pick our favorite questions to answer during each month, based on feedback from our readers. We will cover any topics that will help individuals and families improve their e-Life. For example: questions about the best iPhone, iPad and Android applications for various everyday activities (the best photo-sharing apps or financial management apps); how to cope with a cyber bully; how to increase security on your technology devices, and a lot about cloud computing.

Next Steps:

Ask Geek Housecalls any question about your e-Life: from questions about the best phone applications for everyday tasks, to troubleshooting a slow computer. Ask your e-Life questions here and we’ll choose the most prevalent topics to be addressed in our monthly column. Email your questions to elife@geekhousecalls.com (add “e-Life Column Question” in the subject-line) or via Twitter @GeekHousecalls.


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Protecting The American Dream of Home Ownership

Judy Moore

When I first became a REALTOR® over 26 years ago, I remember hearing the phrase “If real estate is your profession then politics is your business.” It didn’t mean anything to me then, if anything, it was a tad confusing….my plan was to put buyers and sellers together, sell houses and everyone would be happy. Right? Over the years I learned that there is a lot that needs to happen behind the scenes in order to get to that point where sellers and buyers can conclude a transaction at the closing table. And that’s where the politics came in. As I became more involved in leadership at the local, state and national levels of the REALTOR® Association, I learned that there are constant obstacles that need to be overcome to protect The American Dream of home ownership, the most recent being the financial crises and it’s after effects.

Many economists state that housing is a major piece of the economic recovery and that is why over 13,000 REALTORS® from across the country recently held a rally at the foot of the Washington Monument to protect the American Dream, to let Congress know that we support legislation that protects home ownership. We also held meetings with our members of Congress to review specific legislation and issues that we feel need to be addressed to keep the slow economic recovery moving along in the right direction. Why does home ownership matter to you, our community and the economy? Housing accounts for more than 15% of the gross domestic product. Additionally, six of the last eight recessions have ended as a result of hearty housing markets with war spending ending the other two. The National Association of Realtors® estimates that each home sale contributes about sixty thousand dollars to the GDP and that one job is created for every two home sales. Additionally, research shows that there are many positive social benefits of home ownership to a community that include higher academic achievement, more cohesive communities, better connected family units, improved health and safety and an overall stronger local economy. It’s also interesting to note that in the last few years research shows that the consumer’s perspective on home ownership has shifted psychologically from financial to more emotional in nature. Buyers have become more practical by seeking a home they can comfortably afford, that is a truer reflection of who they are as opposed to stretching themselves financially to obtain a larger home.

Home ownership continues to be the American Dream but it is under siege.

Some of the critical issues we are addressing with Congress pertain to preserving the Mortgage Interest Deduction, mortgage affordability, expediting the short sale process and secondary mortgage market reform. This is why I was in DC in May and why I continue to work with The National Association of Realtors® and Congress. Preserving home ownership is important to our future and the stability of our economy. So that saying I heard long ago turned out to be true after all. Yes, my primary focus is to put buyers and sellers together and sell real estate but “real estate is my profession and politics is my business” because I wholeheartedly believe in the American Dream of Home ownership. For those who might be interested, The National Association of Realtors® has a comprehensive web site for the public where you can pick up handy house related tips and ideas and keep track of issues affecting homeowners at www.houselogic.com.

Judy Moore CBR, CDPE, GRI, PMN, SRES Certified Residential Specialist
2012-2013 NAR RPAC Trustee
2012 NAR Major Investor Council
2009-2012 NAR Executive Committee
2008 Region 1 NAR Vice President
2004 Massachusetts State President
The Higgins Group Realtors

Direct: 781-264-2661
Email: judy@judymoore.com
Web: www.judymoore.com


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Entering “No Skateboarding” Zone

By Ana Hebra Flaster

At noon and five each day I rub the skin over my left eye where the plastic surgeon sewed nine tiny blue stitches last month. Five minutes of circular massage twice a day is supposed to reduce the buildup of scar tissue, said the boy masquerading as a doctor in the ER. I’m in favor of reduced scarring. I don’t need more lines near my eyes, thank you very much. Ironically, it was that kind of thinking—of aging and waning youth–that drew me to the skateboard that caused the accident that resulted in sutures in the ER the Friday night of the accident. These things happen when one turns 50.

My husband and I had just finished cleaning up in the kitchen. He poured us each a glass of wine to enjoy during the movie we planned to watch on the big screen in the basement playroom. Older people spend their Friday nights like this and, dear Lord, it is exciting. When Andy, our dog and I reached the bottom step of the basement stairs I saw that our son, once again, had left his skateboard next to the stairs. The skateboard’s raggedy green wheels glistened in the dark. They almost talked, lopsided and dented, of thrilling rides and loopy fun. Could I have some of that again, I wondered.  Maybe. Yes. Why the Hell not? As Andy adjusted the lights and the screen and fiddled with the projector, I set my full glass of wine on the bottom step, put one foot on the board and scooted around.  Yes I glided slowly, matronly some might say, but, as a newly-minted 50 year-old, I had no problem with that.

Unfortunately, the ride was going so smoothly that I decided a little more oomph could only add to the fun. I pushed off a little harder that last time and the board went all Eavil Kenievel on me. The wheels turned wobbly. The board came alive and shot through the air over my head. Hey, why are my feet in front of my face? Does anyone know? The momentum flung me back and sideways and I heard a crack. I landed—face first—on top of the wine glass and, immediately after, the oak step. (We didn’t carpet the stairs because people trip on carpeted stairs. Don’t you know that?)

Andy heard the crack and the crash and turned away from the buttons and dials to look for me at eye level just as I stood up. Blood, glass and wine had splattered everywhere. I was afraid to reach for my face. Was there an impaled wine glass where skin had lain undisturbed just moments before?  I heard Andy’s too-normal voice, “Are you okay?”  To be fair, I’d have asked the same question if the wine glass were on the other face. For a few seconds we stared at each other, mouths open.  The dog’s whimpering snapped us out of our stupor. We bounded for the car and aimed for the ER.

Now, every day at noon and five, I massage my boo-boo and ponder how a Friday night went so wrong for an otherwise sensible 50 year-old woman. Misadventures almost always teach us something, if we listen. Funny, I’d been wondering how I might mark my 50th birthday, but I guess it decided to mark me.

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‘How’s the market?’… A professional realtor’s perspective

Each month, the Colonial Times will present perspectives on the local real estate market from leaders in the Lexington real estate community

Dani Fleming

By Dani Fleming  |

Frequently I get asked the question “How’s the Market?”. It’s a valid question be-cause, for most people, the most expensive asset they own is their home, or it’s the most expensive purchase they plan to make. So, it’s important to have a good understanding of the market dynamics at any point in time. Having an extensive back-ground in the Information Technology field, my approach to real estate is a ‘Data Driven’ one.

There are many pieces of information you can use to evaluate the health of the market. Key pieces of information to know are:

1. Inventory Levels

2. Trends in Average Sale prices over time

3. Absorption rates

4. Sales distributions.

There are others also, but these four topics will be covered in this and a future issue.

Inventory Levels

The graph shows the movement of inventory (homes on the market) over the last 6 years in Lexington. This graph can tell you many things. Note the seasonality reflected in the graph – in Jan 2011 inventory levels were very low, and as the spring market got underway inventory levels began increasing as more homeowners put their home on the market to sell. In May 2011, the number of homes on the market peaked and then began dropping as fewer sellers decided to sell and started thinking about their summer plans instead, yet buyers remained very active. The net result of fewer homes coming on the market, yet buyer activity continuing, is a reduction of homes available for sale. In July and August inventory levels hovered below the peaks of spring and autumn with occasional homes coming on the market and occasional purchases occurring. But, most buying and selling activity slows down during the summer months, increasing again in autumn when sellers and buyers again think about moving. The autumn market is shorter than spring, starting around September and finishing by Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving many home sellers take their homes off the market for winter because of reduced buyer activity and this also means that they can bring their homes back on the market again in spring, fresh to the market. You can see the repeat of this scenario year after year, indicating a balanced cycle. In spring of 2009 we had very high peaks of inventory, but with subsequent lower peaks in the following years.

Seasonality in an inventory level graph indicates a ‘healthy’ market. When you are in an area with lots of foreclosures, short sales and oversupply of homes you don’t see seasonality of this type because the seasonal trends are ‘hidden’ amongst the clutter of the oversupply.

Reducing peaks of inventory levels also indicate a ‘healthy’ market. Declining inventory levels are an indicator of increasing prices – with the caveat that there are many indicators of what is happening with the market and you cannot review one in isolation; you have to review them all too truly understand what is happening.

Absorption Rates

Absorption rates tell us a huge amount of information about the current real estate market in a town. Using the sales data for the last 12 months, at any given price range, you can derive a rate of sales per month. The absorption rate calculates how many months it will take to sell the current inventory, assuming no more houses come on the market, at the same rate of sales that occurred in the prior 12 months. In other words, how many months will it take to sell what we have on the market? We generally say that any price range that has over 7 months supply has an ‘oversupply’ situation. Any price range under 7 months is in a balanced, ‘healthy’ state, and where we have less than 3 months supply we are in a ‘greater demand than supply’ situation. Note though that these figures change monthly. In winter when there is very little inventory on the market you tend to have ‘better’ absorption rates than in the peak of spring where a lot of homes have entered the market.

Reviewing Lexington’s absorption rates we can see that in every price range we are in a ‘healthy’ state of supply and demand. We don’t have any price ranges where we have over 7 months supply and in fact have many price ranges where we have less than 3 months supply. This supports what we are seeing ‘on the ground’ where we have very little inventory for all the buyers who are looking to move into, or within, Lexington. If you would like to discuss these statistics or review more, then please go to www.MAPropertisOn-line.com or call/email me at dani.flemig@MAProper-tiesOnlie.com or (617) 997 9145.


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By Chief Mark J. Corr, Lexington Police Department  |  As a new officer fresh out of the police academy in 1983, one of the more difficult chores was serving arrest warrants for red light and speeding violations. I would go knock on doors and take residents into custody for the non payment of a $20 fine. Frankly, I found these assignments embarrassing.

Today, a traffic violation is a civil violation and the non payment of a ticket will adversely impact your driver’s license or registration. Decriminalization of traffic laws did not give motorists the privilege to violate traffic regulations and endanger public safety. Speeding and driving through red lights is still unlawful. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in Massachusetts in 2008. I often overhear people talking about “legally” possessing marijuana.

In one police report, a parent told officers that her16-year old son told her it was legal to possess marijuana in Massachusetts. It is troubling to me how many youths and adults do not understand the meaning of decriminalization.

The possession and use of marijuana is unlawful. Smoking marijuana is a health hazard. Most users have no idea where or how their marijuana was grown and contamination of product is common; some dealers add other drugs to their product. Tobacco companies were not the only ones who understood that a more potent smoke could promote an addiction.

A 2007 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drug use (as reported by the motorists) was as high as 16%; see the NHTSA web-site for more information. Surveys from around the nation tend to show that marijuana continues to be the gateway drug that many youths take before going on to use more serious drugs.

School Resource Officer Matthew Murphy is noticing a trend whereby students, new from the middle schools, seem more inclined to try marijuana than their older siblings. They cite the change in the law for their inclination to try marijuana. In our region, one ounce of marijuana can cost over $400 for 42 to 56 joints (using .75 to .50 ounce per joint).

Whereas distributing marijuana is still a criminal offense; the decriminalization of possession has made it more difficult to prevent a very lucrative business of selling smaller amounts of marijuana. Dealers are meticulously aware of the amount they should possess to avoid criminal possession. I could discuss at length the failure of the current drug laws, or cite many more examples of the hazards of marijuana use.

With the limited exception of a few who benefit from medical marijuana, I will simply say that the possession of marijuana is unlawful and smoking is unhealthy.

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Boca Costa

My friend Dora stood in my kitchen the other day showing me photos from her trip to a tiny Guatemalan village high in the mountains of her native country. Each year, twice a year, she and her husband, Freddy, travel there as assistants to a medical team serving Guatemalans in need.

Like the other volunteers, Dora and Freddy use their vacation days and pay their own expenses on these trips. Sometimes I help them with fundraising, or by contacting friends in the medical field who manage to donate vitamins, medicines and supplies. Dora says she and Freddy get back more than they ever give. I’m used to these kitchen debriefings from Dora, but when she finishes telling me about this trip, I see for the first time that this work pays Dora back with a rare kind of treasure.

Dora’s three-day medical brigades usually focus on city-dwellers in dire need of medical attention. But this February the group traveled to the remote village of Boca Costa, high in the southwestern mountains of Guatemala. The two busses loaded with volunteers from across the U.S. left Guatemala City early that morning and bounced along mountain roads for hours until they reached the unpaved tracts leading to the village.

Boca Costa runs itself. The village is too remote for reliable help from the police or the army. As the busses rolled up, the villagers raised their gate to welcome the foreign doctors. “They wore their finest clothes for us—what they wear for ceremonies and special days,” Dora said, pointing out the dark blue woven cloth of the women’s skirts, their creamy embroidered blouses.

Even in the long line of villagers, the old woman caught Dora’s attention. She was frail but sturdy, clearly blind, or nearly so, but somehow stood up straight, a guide by her side. Her jet-black hair belied her nearly 80 years of hard work in these beautiful but unforgiving mountains; the burns on her wrinkled dried out arms did not. The Mayan-to-Spanish interpreter passed the woman’s words to the Spanish-to-English interpreter.

“I can’t see my cooking fire any more. Can you see my burns? I’ve come so the doctor can put her hands on me and heal me. So I won’t burn myself anymore.”

Dora looked on as Ellen—a new doctor from Chicago—examined the old woman, but could tell by the doctor’s expressions she wouldn’t be able to help the ancient villager. The interpreters worked through the message, as gently as possible, until the Mayan words finally reached the old woman’s ears.

“No,” the old woman said, “No!” She is a good doctor. Tell her I know that! She must try. Try something!” The old woman leaned closer to the doctor, felt for the doctor’s hands to put on her own head.

The American doctor held the old woman’s hands and, again, tried to relay the message, this time explaining the treatment for cataracts, that the woman needed surgery, that the doctors couldn’t operate now—here. The interpreters, Dora, the doctor, and the old woman were all in tears as the message passed through the languages and the thin high air of the mountains.

The old woman sat quietly for a moment, wiping her face with her hands, letting the words sink in. “Tell her to touch me. Please!”

Dora and the doctor bent down in unison and started digging into a box full of glasses, placing one pair after another into the old woman’s hands and guiding them toward her face. The old woman put each pair on with pride and squinted into the haze in front of her, lifting her face to catch the light she needed, but no light shone through. Then, after many attempts, inexplicably, one set of glasses gave her just enough vision—just enough. The old woman stood up beaming. She declared herself cured. The doctor tried to explain, but the woman was too happy to hear about warnings and realistic expectations. She begged the doctor not to leave until she returned. Dora, the interpreters and the doctor only nodded as they, again, recovered from another cry.

After a while, the old woman returned, wearing her new glasses, her guide nearby, and a gorgeous white hen in her arms.

“I want to give the doctor my best hen. She is a very good hen. She will lay many eggs for you,” she said lifting the fat serene hen in the air.

Everyone looked at the startled doctor as she struggled to find the right words. The doctor hugged the old woman, thanked her, tried to explain about planes, and customs agents, but the interpreters were laughing and crying too hard and maybe that’s why the old woman never really grasped the difficulties of hens during international air travel.

“Just tell her!” the old woman insisted, “She must understand that this hen will lay the best eggs and then she could even get the hen to make more chickens. Doesn’t she understand?”

For the fourth time that morning, the women in this circle of helpers, so high in the Guatemalan mountains began to cry together. And the old woman finally understood.

“Tell her, then, that I will never sell or kill this hen. That I will protect and cherish her in the doctor’s honor, because she helped me see light again.”

And the circle of helpers, already used to each others’ tears, let them flow one last time that morning in the village of Boca Costa.


Ana Hebra Flaster is a freelance writer and Lexington resident. Ana’s work has been featured on NPR and the Boston Globe.

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Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month is a time to acknowledge the contributions African Americans have made to our country and to reflect on how far we as a nation have come in addressing social injustice.  And while it’s true that we have made great strides, we still face great challenges in creating a true land of equal opportunity.

Today the challenges faced by many, especially young adults and minorities, are that of economic opportunity.  In a speech given in 1963, Dr Martin Luther King stated, “I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” The economic conditions King spoke of are as true today as they were in 1963 and while the reasons for the disparities may be different the effect is the same; a few people have much while more and more people have less.

Everyone should have access to a quality education, an opportunity to earn a living wage, and have an affordable, safe and adequate place to live and raise a family.  Unfortunately in Massachusetts and across the country, these basic needs seem to be out of reach for more and more working families, elderly, and young adults.  Wages are dropping.  Jobs that pay enough to support a family are becoming more and more difficult to find.  Staying healthy and getting health care when you need it is becoming unaffordable.

Dr. King’s warning in 1963 -an imbalance between those who have and those who have not- is strikingly true today.   Studies consistently show that minorities face more challenges getting jobs even when comparing potential workers of similar age and education. Black unemployment surged to over 16% while unemployment for whites dropped just above 8% in September of 2011.  Accounting for differences in education and income, African Americans are still hit significantly harder than whites when it comes to job loss. In addition, black men account for a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. Studies consistently show that this imbalance is in large part due to the lack of economic opportunity for black men, exacerbated by difficulties finding a job once released from prison.

People of all ethnic backgrounds face difficult economic times and uncertainty.  While corporations have seen their profits rise significantly, they have been slow to rehire laid off workers or add new jobs.  Safety nets in Massachusetts are not only supporting the poor, but working and middle class families as well.

To address this issue, we must focus on creating a level playing field for all our residents, regardless of their race or ethnic background.  We need a tax system that is coherent and fair.  We must ensure that nobody goes bankrupt paying for healthcare (the number 1 cause of bankruptcy in America).

Moreover, we must support the hard work and commitment of the Governor to close the educational achievement gap.  We must act quickly to provide  affordable quality training opportunities for our under employed  and unemployed workers to fill  the thousands of middle skills jobs that are available now and that will continue to grow in industries such as biotech, clean energy, and healthcare.  We need to ensure underemployed young people and minorities have access to job training programs that will lead to living wage jobs and stability.

Black History Month is a time to remember the incredible contributions and sacrifices African Americans have made for our country and to continue the struggle for equal justice, both social and economic, for all.

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Jamming on the Pike

Ana Hebra Flaster

That morning, my husband and I had been trying to scare each other with plans for strict diets when we realized one of us needed to drive our daughter back to her college in western Mass. I thought I saw his eyes tear up a bit as we stared each other down by the garage door. I blinked, and before I could say “Framingham” I was in a bumper-to-bumper quagmire on I-90. The Pike before or after a long weekend is no place for a lady, or a gentleman, really.

My daughter and I passed the time arguing about which music to listen to, and imagining all sorts of life stories for our fellow travelers as they zoomed and inched by us—depending on the mood of the Beast that had us in its grip. In the left lane, a banged up, formerly white Camry full of sleepy college students revved up and screeched to a stop every minute or so. The driver always woke up in time to avoid what had seemed to be, until moments before, a sure collision. On our right, an older couple crept up beside us at precise intervals. The husband held the steering wheel in a deadly embrace while his wife rocked loosely side-to-side in the passenger’s seat, snug in her seat belt, fast asleep, head lolling around, mouth wide open. The old man shot her worried looks now and then but never let go of the wheel. One SUV after another carried New York and New Jersey families back home after the long weekend at Grandma’s. A kid stuck his tongue out at us and we all laughed like idiots. Cars sliced in and out of lanes whenever an extra foot of space opened up, each driver sure this lane was better. I think we hit 30 a few times. Hours passed. We grew tired of music and conversation. My hands felt numb on the wheel.

Finally, the lady inside my GPS announced we’d arrived at our destination. I helped my daughter unpack, enjoyed two really powerful hugs, and, after studying a real map, belted myself in. “Text me when you get home,” my daughter said, and I smiled at the sound of my words in her mouth.

I felt renewed after those hugs. Plus, on the way in, the last section of the Pike had cleared up a bit in both directions. Besides, I had a Plan B for the ride home that involved Rte 20, even though it dipped in the wrong direction at one point. I’d have to be alert for my exit —this stretch of the Pike is unforgiving, the exits light-years apart. But I felt hopeful when I rolled onto the highway.

At first, traffic flowed sweetly along, but soon the headless Beast reared up again, tangling every car, bus and 18-wheeler into a crunched knot of exhausted metal and rubber. My sciatic nerve woke up just then and hammered its way from my lower back, down my right leg and into my foot. Where was that exit for 20? I searched for new music, something inspiring.

In the darkness, just past Springfield, I crested a hill and looked east into the night. The ruby taillights of a million stopped cars sprinkled over the long black road ahead. On my left, the diamond lights of the oncoming cars were thick, but at least moving. Somehow, those moving white lights boosted my hope. And I heard Elvis sing,

“Since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. Well it’s down at the end of Lonely Street, it’s the… Heartbreak Hotel…”

I felt something soften inside me as I sang out, loud and ugly, protected by darkness, glad the other drivers couldn’t see me as I surrendered to the Beast, to the lurching trucks and the angry tour busses, to the night and to the unavoidable heartbreak of the road ahead.

Ana Hebra Flaster is a freelance writer and Lexington resident. Ana’s work has been featured on NPR and the Boston Globe.



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