Category Archives: Maine Life

Raising Voices and Lifting Spirits

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Lifting their voices in celebration. (Photo from 2013 Concert)

Note that due to hazardous travelling conditions, there is no school today (December 10) for S.A.D. 4 and the Winter Concert is postponed until Monday, December 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the PCESS Gym!

In what has become an annual community tradition, Piscataquis Community Elementary students from kindergarten through grade six will raise their voices and instruments for parents and friends at their annual winter concert on Wednesday, December 10  Monday, December 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the Piscataquis Community Secondary School Gymnasium. Under the direction of music teacher Michelle Briggs and physical education teacher Sheryl Allen, the program involves over 300 students and serves up a wide diversity of talent and entertainment. Everyone works hard to produce a program that includes something for everyone, young and old.

Classes offer creative presentations that often go beyond the expected and the Sixth Grade Band makes their debut. “We pack a lot of talent into a one hour show,” notes Briggs. “The kids work hard, but we also have fun. The kids really enjoy performing for the community.” Briggs also hinted that there will be a special closing to this year’s show in the form of a specially choreographed piece featuring fourth graders. Students and attendees are encouraged to wear “fun festive accessories such as ties, hats and hair pieces” to contribute to the spirit of celebration.

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Lifting their drawings as well as their voices. (Photo from 2013 Concert.)

One local resident who rarely misses a concert points out, “These are the kinds of events that put the ‘community’ in Piscataquis Community Elementary School. They are today’s version of a ‘Norman Rockwell Moment’ – a picture perfect evening of friends and neighbors gathering together for simple and traditional pleasure.”

The snow date for the concert is Monday, December 15. Updates and additional information will be available on the M.S.A.D. 4 website and Facebook Page. There will be an audio live stream available on the district website for those who cannot attend.

Mr. Boomsma Makes Mag!

SR Mag Clip“Mr. Boomsma” is the subject of a special article in the October Issue of Maine Seniors Magazine. The article was originally going to focus on the Grange, but as her research developed, writer Donna Halvorsen found a slightly different focus. She writes, “Each Grange can choose its own projects, reflecting local needs and interests. That’s how the Valley Grange, whose area stretches from Monson to Milo, came to focus so strongly on children. And how Boomsma—who talks with his hands and quotes Socrates—built a life around it.

I knew I quoted Socrates, but didn’t realize I talk with my hands. Although it makes sense because I happen to believe that a teacher can and should be his own greatest visual aid. I like to draw, too! (I didn’t say I was good at it… in fact I’ve been working on forming my letters correctly so I don’t embarrass myself in Kindergarten.)

One interesting side bar story… when the article was going through it’s final edits, Donna requested some pictures of me “working with kids.” Since I’m usually the photographer at school, I didn’t find very many so we decided to have a photo shoot. But who to invite?

I remembered how several years ago Kendall Kimball (then a second grader) announced to me she is going to be a “pop star” when she grows up. She also provided a detailed explanation of the difference between a “pop star” and a “rock star” and her determination has not waned. Needing a young model, it occurred to me that we might launch her career and establish her identity as a media darling. When you see the photo of us on page 35, I think you’ll agree–the camera loves her.

As for me… well, when the magazine hit Park Danforth–an assisted living center in Portland–my Aunt called to inform me that some of her girlfriends think I’m a real “hunk.” So I guess I’m popular with the eight year olds and the eighty-somethings.

Maine Seniors is a high quality magazine published right here in Maine and distributed throughout the state featuring “community icons” and “prime movers”— seniors who are making a difference in their communities and state. The article features some of Valley Grange’s initiatives such as Words for Thirds, Bookworming, and the GrowME project while telling some of my favorite stories about working with kids. But it also makes clear the fact that Mr. Boomsma believes it’s not about programs. The programs I like “are really just an excuse to do the real work.”

I would quickly add that it’s hard to think of something that’s this much fun as work. If  you  haven’t guessed what “the work” is, read the article.

A  complete digital copy is available on http://wboomsma.com. (Thanks to the publisher for generous reprint rights.) The entire issue will be accessible at http://meseniors.com before the month of October is over.

An outtake of the pop star and the hunk!
An outtake featuring the pop star and the hunk!

Gee! Haw!

Farmington_35SMMeet four-year old Julia and her two large friends. She had the fine distinction of being the youngest and smallest driver in a special class of oxen pulling created at the Farmington Fair this year. She also had the distinction of having the largest team in the class.

For somebody who’s a huge fan of oxen pulling and an even bigger fan of kids this was one of the better experiences I had while attending fairs this year. She was truly amazing. Driving oxen is about using a “goad” (the stick she’s holding in the photo) and “tapping” the oxen in distinct spots to encourage them to move in certain directions. Julia got some chuckles because she had trouble reaching their backs so she would occasionally leap into the air if a correction seemed necessary. She would also occasional leap over piles of poop. The oxen seemed to understand and follow her lead. (They didn’t leap, but they pulled nicely.)

Surely some credit is owed her Dad–these oxen are obviously older than Julia so he must have done most of their training. And a lot of credit goes to the Farmington Fair Association for encouraging these kids. There seven teams driven by kids of assorted ages. Honorable mention goes to Oxford Fair where I was pleased to find a 4-H Club centered around kids raising steers and learning to drive oxen–thought by many to be a “dying art.”

I don’t know if Julia will continue to compete as she grows up, but she did seem to have fun. It’s not usual to see kids walk with a team at the end of competition. But this was not the case. The adults who were present kept their distance and the kids did the actual drawing. One young fellow kept running out of hands. He needed one for the goad, one for the rope attached to the halter, and one to pull up his pants as they kept sliding down.

I sorta kept an eye on Julia while she was waiting her turn–not out of concern for her safety, but out of curiosity. Her attention didn’t waiver; she gave her oxen the same attention one might expect of adult teamsters. She also seemed to have a lot more energy than her adult counterparts.

Watching her was a powerful reminder–one that I hope you’ll experience from seeing these photos–even if you know nothing about oxen and these competitions. Remember, she’s four years old–preschool age. If a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, here are the words: Never underestimate a kid.

"Okay, guys... we just need to wait here until you are hitched."
“Okay, guys… we just need to wait here until you are hitched to the drag.”

 

Books and Balloons at Guilford River Festival

And there might be dancing!
And there might be dancing!

“Are you old enough to dance?” is just one of the many questions “Mr. Boomsma” has been asked by the children he works with as a volunteer and substitute elementary school teacher. In his book, Small People—Big Brains, he points out that his original knee jerk reaction was the child had asked it wrong and really meant “Are you too old to dance?” But whether this is just an example of the literal thinking of a child or one of the many insightfully innocent statements kids make, it becomes another one of the stories about simplicity, exploration and wonder contained in the book.

Boomsma explains that the book formed when he realized after years of telling stories about his experiences with kids—sometimes hysterically funny stories, sometimes extremely insightful stories, and sometimes tragic—he’d already “written” most of it—all that was left to do was compile and publish it. Completed just over one year ago, he’s already hinting there may be a volume two as the stories keep coming and the kids still seem to have a lot more to teach him. He especially likes it when the kids ask “Mr. Boomsma, what would happen if…?” and wishes more adults would recapture some of that exploration and wonder because “thinking with kids about that question can lead to some amazing discoveries.”

Jack Falvey,  a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s says of the book, “This is a light and fast read until it isn’t, and then you stop and read a sentence or a thought a couple of times… If you have ever been in a classroom, on either side of the teacher’s desk, you will enjoy these classic and classy observations on the art and science of learning.”

Boomsma’s work with Valley Grange and children will be featured in a soon to be released issue of Maine Seniors Magazine where he will be identified as a one of the magazine’s “Prime Movers – seniors and organizations who have truly become icons in their communities.” “I have figured out a lot of things about working with kids,” he jokes, “but I don’t have a clue how to be a community icon. I wonder if it involves dancing.”

“Mr. Boomsma” will be at the Guilford River Festival on Saturday, July 26 with some of his Valley Grange friends and the Bookworms who volunteer to listen to the kids read at Piscataquis Community Elementary School. There will be balloons for kids and funny stories about kids for adults. Signed copies of Small People – Big Brains will be available for purchase. And maybe even some dancing!

(Adapted from a press release…)

It’s Only Fair…

Skowhegan 4HOne of my summer diversions is taking in some fairs here and there. My digestion usually suffers a bit. (Why is it that agricultural fairs with displays of award-winning produce only serve stuff that’s supposed to be bad for you?) My boots take a beating and often come home with bits of agricultural residue which Harley Dog finds extremely interesting. Occasionally my back gets a little stiff from sitting on bleachers watching ox and horse pulls. But the rest of me enjoys it and finds the celebratory nature of fairs exciting. I’m hoping I’m not done yet for the year, but I do have to share a couple of things that I’d like to celebrate.

First, if you’ve not ever visited the 4H exhibits at the Skowhegan Fair, you’re missing a treat. You’ll be greeted by a couple of young people who are extremely pleasant and have a vocabulary that consists of more than the monosyllabic language most often used by adolescents. You’ll find the various exhibits reflect club pride, teamwork, and very often a high level of creativity. I found one individual example this year that gets “Mr. Boomsma’s unofficial blue ribbon.” A simple paper plate bearing a message to the judges. “My Dad found my sample cupcakes and ate them all. He said they were very good.” I gather the judges couldn’t accept Dad’s testimonial because there was no ribbon attached, but I accept this young lady’s ability to come up with a rather unique fair exhibit.

Another highlight of fair visits for this year took place at the Piscataquis Valley Fair when a brother and sister I happen to know from school spotted and dragged me to the 4H area to show me their projects. (Admittedly I didn’t resist too hard.) The older brother revealed his hobby of metal detecting and asked me to check out some of his finds. He also pointed to several pictures and told me a story.

Using his metal detector he found a high school class ring–dated ten years ago. Using his detective skills he researched and located the ring’s original owner. In one of the pictures she is clearly crying while he is looking up at her. At this stage of the story another fairgoer who’d been eavesdropping on the story asked my friend–almost accusingly, “You mean you didn’t get a cash reward?!”

Fortunately, I didn’t have time to seriously consider punching the guy. Without pause, my young friend responded eagerly, “Oh no, mister–seeing that woman’s smile was my reward!”

The only thing I can add to this story is two words. “There’s hope.” (If I had a blue ribbon I’d offer it to him, but he’d probably refuse it and say again, “Seeing that woman’s smile is my reward.”

Yeah. There’s hope.