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‘This Old House’ renovated my childhood home

‘This Old House’ renovated my childhood home

Published in the Boston Globe, December 26th, 2014 See a video of Mindy touring the house: on Boston.com. There is no player at http://bcove.me/1ohkaee5. My parents unbolted the front door of my childhood home in Lexington only for parties. Otherwise, people entered the 1966 Garrison Colonial via a side door. This door, located on a tiny porch that led into the mudroom, was closer to the garage but still outside, so we raced on rainy days. We mostly used the tiny porch for entry and egress. Yet it contains a special memory: Every spring for 45 years, my mother’s annual hanging impatiens contained a bird’s nest — the mother studying our comings and goings like a British Palace guard, and we monitoring her babies’ progress like neonatal nurses. The compact mudroom led into the kitchen of the four-bedroom house — spacious for those days. But as a kid, all I really cared about was my bedroom, with its Beatles posters and gold clanking glass beads covering the doorway during those preteen years — lest anyone enter undetected. And I felt special that the laundry chute was in my room (used, at times, to plunk my German shepherd’s toys down to tease her, annoying my mother). This was home from my formative years through college; eventually, I bought a house in neighboring Bedford, and my older sister raised her family in Andover. My parents remained three more decades and updated twice: the kitchen in the ’70s, augmenting the original brown cabinets with white and oak doors (a mismatched combo, but a popular solution back then), and in the mid-1980s, as part of a large renovation project. They removed bedroom number four to create a two-story entry-hall ceiling. They made the dining room a marble guest bathroom/coat closet and created an expansive dining room out of the living room. Among other changes, they created a colossal great room. Designed with high ceilings and a wide sliding-glass door, the contemporary great room also contained an oversized custom-made wall unit with a bar, big television (probably only 32 inches, but huge back in the day), and a sound system with then-trendy toddler-tall speakers. My parents loved to sit in that room reading and listening to symphonies. The ficus in the sunny corner grew to nearly 12 feet high. When my sister and I visited through the years with our spouses and children, we all gathered around the 24-foot long, L-shaped off-white leather couch in this enormous room. The last all-family event was Father’s Day 2011, when I cooked omelets to order. Soon after, my folks sold the house to downsize to The Commons in nearby Lincoln. Buyers Jeremy and Jody Kieval shared their plans to expand for greater comfort for their young family. No one could have predicted what happened three years later. PBS’s “This Old House” chose the Kievals’ expansion for its 35th anniversary season. Just completed, it will premiere on WGBX Jan. 8 and on WGBH Jan. 17. Jeremy shared the news via e-mail last spring, writing: “PLEASE disregard the negative stuff. Got to have some entertainment value.” Hmm. Despite my parents’ updates, I guess their house was still a midcentury treasure needing major modernizing. Early on, my father and I ventured over to see the plans. I’ve returned a few times since. That tiny mudroom porch? Replaced by a bumped-out grand farmer’s porch spanning the entire front — making that front door no longer superfluous. In fact, it’s painful visualizing warm nights and martinis out there next summer — for another family. And, thanks to the bump-out, the Kievals enter...

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Great Dane Service Dog Project

Great Dane Service Dog Project

Published in the Boston Globe, March 2014. Stanley frequents Nashoba Brook Bakery in Concord, but not for the pastries and sandwiches. This 165-pound, 5-foot-long Great Dane, with yardstick-size legs and a nose waist-high to an average human, is on the job. Stanley accompanies his companion Becky Spencer everywhere, even just for a cup of Joe. And he wears a sign on his harness: “I’m working. Stop. Do Not Distract.” Spencer, 39, is an Army National Guard veteran with two decades of service despite multiple injuries exacerbated in a Humvee accident in Iraq. Her complex medical conditions can trigger seizures, spills, or emotional distress. Stanley is her service dog. The colossal canine — and others like Stanley — fulfill a specific task: aiding humans with stability and balance issues. Some 60 Great Danes like Stanley perform jobs such as these, thanks to the Great Dane Service Dog Project. SDP breeds, raises, trains, and donates the dogs, with priority to veterans and their families, but also to others dealing with Parkinson’s disease, Friedreich’s ataxia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury. Carlene White, president and head dog trainer, founded the nonprofit in 2003 on her private 12-acre Ipswich farm. SDP is the only accredited member of Assistance Dogs International to train Great Danes. Some 40 dogs, from pups to seniors, live on the farm in the main house and four barns with dozens of heated kennels, cared for by five part-time staff members and more than 45 active volunteers. They place 12-25 dogs per year. In a prior life, White, 76, ran Animal Episodes for 30 years, providing trained animal “actors” of all kinds for print ads, television, and movies in Massachusetts, including “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Good Will Hunting.” But life changed soon after her male Great Dane jumped a new USDA-required fence on her property — fathering 23 pups with three of her female Great Danes. “When you have too many lemons, you make lemonade,” she says. She gave one pup to her father, who had Parkinson’s, and another to a friend with multiple sclerosis. The dogs, who love to lean against humans, provided a natural support for those unstable on their feet. The Danes are also intelligent, friendly, and patient and require limited exercise, she says. She began training them to match their gait to a handler’s unsteady pace and soon consulted with staff at ADI, who affirmed White’s early training efforts. They suggested the Danes would be good for “guys coming back from the war,” she recalls. She founded SDP, despite naysayers who believed Great Danes were not suitable as service dogs. The spunky White gloats when saying she proved them wrong, including debunking the stereotype about the breed’s short life span. Some live past age 10, and “my first stud lived to 14,” she says. Bud Wilbur, 44, of Sterling, and his wife, Stephanie, attribute his return to society to his 135-pound, 4-year-old buddy, Indy. A Gulf War Marine veteran with progressive medical issues, Wilbur says he “soldiered on,” thrusting himself into work as a software engineer — putting in 80-hour weeks. At home with his wife and two sons, however, he “closed off to society in what we call ‘bunkering down,’ ” he says. “I had a hard time with any kind of crowds.” This lasted more than a decade. No going to restaurants, stores, movies. Eventually, his condition affected his memory and he stopped working. Finally, Wilbur also faced up to his PTSD. “It’s hard to admit,” he says. Then, hesitantly, after volunteering with service dogs, he pursued one. When SDP matches dogs...

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Saying goodbye to your childhood home

Saying goodbye to your childhood home

Published in the Boston Globe Address Section: My First Home, July 27, 2014 Two years ago, on the day my aging parents moved from their three-story home of 45 years, they expressed little sentiment. My father proclaimed that “some moves are prompted by desire, while ‘necessity’ drives others.” This move’s necessity emerged when my mother’s scoliosis made navigating stairs problematic in that spacious Lexington home where I grew up. Their lack of emotion surprised me until Dad explained he was too busy orchestrating the move to feel sentimental. And while my mother described the move as bittersweet, she directed her limited energy to selecting which of her treasured paintings would fit in their compact apartment in the independent community two towns away. All around me, friends were coercing elderly parents out of multistory homes, while my sister and I were relieved our parents accepted that it was time and took action. Other than these thoughts, I also felt little emotion. After all, I’d moved out decades before. However, after my parents and the moving van drove off, my husband — the family member who most honors the past — requested a final trek around the vacant house. Steve and I began our tour in the large foyer, where I pictured the old dining room where my parents held dinner parties. I could practically smell the stuffed mushrooms, beef bourguignon, and chocolate mousse cake my mother spent days preparing in her Julia Child phase — well before Costco introduced ready-made gourmet. During these parties, my sister and I were banished to our bedrooms, where boisterous voices debating political issues could be heard thundering up the stairs. Come morning, we’d tiptoe downstairs and sneak chocolate cake. This memory suddenly unlocked the floodgates of things long forgotten, just as a person tucks a treasured item deep into a drawer, only to discover it years later with surprise and joy. The sentimental valve was now wide open. In the great room, with its high ceilings and colossal walls, only the hooks of my mother’s colorful art collection remained on the walls. In my mind’s eye, I pictured conductor, composer, and pianist Michael Tilson Thomas playing there in the 1980s for a fund-raiser. I visualized bedecked guests sipping champagne around the rented elegant black piano. Next, we walked into the dining room, formerly the living room. I imagined my younger mother writing letters with her French quill pen at her green antique desk, the desk that until days before had held her pink Dell computer. And I imagined my father sitting at his French armoire paying bills, the rich wood dark against the pale cream-colored walls. Both antiques moved with them. In the kitchen, I opened the cabinet where my mother had marked the heights of my daughters and niece as they grew from toddlers to teens to young adults. They’d long surpassed the door. Steve and I climbed to the second floor. In my old bedroom, I pointed out where posters of the Beatles and The Monkees once lined the walls. Then I peered out the window that looked out front, and in my imagination I heard the blare of a car horn by a crush I’d waited years to ask me out during high school — recalling that I’d returned home from that date disappointed that he was a lousy kisser. Soon, Steve and I locked the front door, knowing the new owners would open it next. I leaned my head on his chest and cried for a second, not for the loss as much as my joy that the new couple...

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