Wetlands below the Pistol Pond Dam, and behind the cemetery wall on Maple Street.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?



These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.


Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

George Carlin Is Turning Over




I love George Carlin.  I laughed at his observations of life, but apparently didn't learn what he was teaching.  I've  become an expert at storing a pound of stuff in a half pound bag.  It happens when you only have a half pound bag to begin with, and a whole lot stuff that needs to be stored.  What makes it work is being creative.

I can be creative.

Our garage is a one car garage, and was built sometime in the 1960's.  It's large enough for a 1968 Pontiac Bonneville, and a lawn mower, but little else. It's a half pound bag.  In New England,  there is  stuff that needs to be put away.  Stuff that needs to be stored seasonally, or just stored till the next time it's needed.  A lot of New England folks have a different idea just what storage is.  It could mean putting something in the barn, the garage, or out in the shed.  Others just place it on the lawn, under a tarp. If I placed our stuff under a tarp on the lawn I can assure you that in a very short time one of the things living under a tarp on the lawn would be me.

Mary's tolerance only goes so far.

In order to keep our stuff inside, and out of the weather, I built a lot of shelves, and racks for holding all our stuff in the garage.  It worked.  Rakes, shovels, hoes, and extension cords hung from hooks on the wall.  Snow blower, lawnmower on the floor in the corner.  A small wastebasket, recycling bin, and bin for returnables in the the other corner.  Fireplace wood, ice melt, and bicycles in the back, and bike racks, ladders, sprayers, tire pumps, shrub trimmers, saws, pruners all hanging from hooks on the other wall.

It all fit.

Problem got to be Mary not being able to get out of her car once she pulled in after work.  It only took one night of her sleeping in the garage to convince me that we needed an alternative.  A barn would be nice, but a bit too much since we only have cats, and the tarp idea was definitely out.  It looked like the alternative was a shed.  

I've stick built sheds in the past.  I enjoy it, and I can do it very well, but time was a factor.  I didn't want to have to wait a couple of months  building it on my days off.    

This time I wanted someone else to do it.  

This concept is very foreign to a guy that will try to do most anything before calling in the pro's, but it was an attractive one.  

We pulled up the Reeds Ferry Sheds website on the computer, and went shopping.  The site is good, it has lots of photos of what they offer, tools for  designing sheds, and lots of shed options.  Siding options, roof line options, color options.  Where to place the door options, number of doors, and how wide of a door option.  Window options, too.  If you spent enough time on the site you could design a three bedroom, two bath shed.

After we looked over all the shed designs, and the multitude of options we took a ride up the the Reeds Ferry factory in Hudson, New Hampshire.  The place is immense.  A large factory where the sheds are built, and many different style sheds setup outside for us to walk through, and for getting our storage juices flowing.

It worked.  

We bought a traditional colonial shed, gray clapboard on the three sides, gray shingles on the front with white trim, and a double front door.  And window boxes.  Very New England.  "Has to have window boxes", she said, and I agreed, as my living in under the tarp in the yard was still a very real possibility.

The minimalist garage.
The neat thing about buying a shed in Hudson, New Hampshire is that they build it there, then load it onto a truck, give it a ride to Fiskdale, and unload it.  In no time, compared to me building a shed from scratch, the little building was unloaded, leveled, with the ramp, and window boxes attached.  And, I sat on a lawn chair and watched them do it.  

Watching others do in a fraction of the time I could do it was the best.  What a concept.

Soon, the Reeds Ferry guys were done.  They asked me, as they had throughout their time at our house, if I was satisfied with the shed.

"Yes", I smiled, "Yes, I am".  

Over the next week, or so, I moved all the stuff from the garage into the shed.  It took a bit of time to figure out just where everything was to be placed so that it would fit well, and be accessible.  Now, the garage houses only Mary's car, the wastebasket, recycling, and a couple of snow shovels, and a broom.

That's it. The garage has become a minimalists dream, however we did need to buy a shed to accomplish it.

George Carlin is turning over, I'm sure.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Like The Idea

We decided to take Stafford Street in Charlton to the Worcester Airport yesterday.  The Pike, and I-290 are how we have always traveled to Worcester, but when I pulled up directions on Google Maps, it gave three options, and one of them was Stafford Street.  We weren't in a hurry, and neither one of could remember taking that route before, so we went on an explore.

Stafford Street is a straight shot into south Worcester, and not to far from Goddard Memorial Drive, the road to the airport.  It's a rural road, all tree lined, with simple homes along it's edges.  A welcome change from 290.

When we reached the Leicster town line, there was a sign welcoming us to the village of Rochdale.  It's a nice sign, and from what I remember reading as I drove by, it read "Welcome to Rochdale -- A mill town."  Although a village within Leicster, the Welcome to Rochdale sign gave the village it's own identity beyond a separate zip code.  Mary turned to me and asked, "Why doesn't Fiskdale have a welcome sign?" as if I am the Sturbridge Oracle.

"Dunno", I answered as intelligently as possible being caught off guard without a snappy reply.  "I really don't know", I reinforced.

There is a nice mini-park at the clock on Main Street in Fiskdale, beside the mill building,  that contains a little history about the area on placards placed in the garden, but Mary is right, there is no "Welcome to Fiskdale" sign on either end of Main Street, Holland Road, or Route 148.

Map of Fiskdale, Massachusetts
Although, Fiskdale residents, such as ourselves, share Sturbridge government, taxes, and schools, we are most definitely a different place from Sturbridge.  The Federal government states this fact each time I receive a letter addressed to Brookfield Road in Sturbridge.  Sturbridge is always scratched out, in a frantic manner - not just a line through the word, and Fiskdale is written in large, bold print, often followed by an exclamation point.  I have even received notice that I must correct the address with those that send us mail, or our mail will take much longer in arriving since it has to go to the Sturbridge post office first.  The federal government thinks a lot of Fiskdale.  They built us a large, modern post office, and when compared to the Sturbridge post office, well, you can tell who Mom likes best.

I think a few "Welcome to Fiskdale" signs placed about would not only reinforce what the feds have stressed on our envelopes for years, but lend an immense sense of pride to the those of us living "out west".

Now, I can hear the hairs rising on the back of the Sturbridge purists necks as I write.

"Welcome to Fiskdale signs will only confuse those that come to our town.  They won't know where they truly are."

"They'll think they overshot Sturbidge."

"They'll get lost looking for Old Sturbridge Village."

"The signs won't do anything to promote Sturbridge."

"Sturbridge is the historical place, not Fiskdale."

Other towns put up signs as a matter of pride, and I am quite sure that Sturbridge is very proud of Fiskdale, and it's history.  I don't think it will affect folks heading to Old Sturbridge Village, after all, it is located in Fiskdale.

If worded properly, and placed appropriately, the signs would be a wonderful addition to our roadsides.


Welcome to Fiskdale  
A village of Sturbridge

I like the idea.  Something to think about this Sunday morning.  Feel free to run with it.




Friday, October 10, 2014

And, It's Free

What is your happiness?  I don't mean to sound Zen like, or like some speaker at a "feel good" seminar, but think about the question for a moment.  What is it that makes you happy?  Are you happy daily, or only at particular moments?  Is your happiness a constant with the ups, and downs that everyone experiences?  Now, I am not talking about depression, that is a whole different ball of wax.  I am talking about plain old happiness.

Now, don't say you are always unhappy, or you are a lifelong pessimist, or you have an enzyme dysfunction that excludes you from being happy ever.  I don't buy it, and don't be a dink.  Happiness is universal, and it is a choice to either experience it, or not.  Oh, you may be bummin' about something that might make it hard to smile at the moment, but that is temporary.  The smile will come back, just grab hold when it does.  You'll be fine.

If you are breathing be happy.  That is a simple thought to start with.

I've had several times in my life where happiness took a leave of absence.  You have, too.  I have also had far more times where happiness not only found me, but grabbed me, and throttled the bejeepers out of me.  It was that good.  The sad times were rough, too, but I knew that they were only temporary.

I was not going to live sad.  I am not talking about depression.  Depression is far beyond being sad. Depression is a clinical condition, sadness is something everyone feels now, and again.

I've lost people close to me, jobs that I loved, all sorts of relationships, pets, my car keys, my train of thought, and money, but nothing did I loose was so severe as to suck the life from me for the rest of my days.

I've also had the attitude that I will maintain happiness, be ready for the next smile moment, and experience it to the fullest.  That moment could be the simplest thing.  On Monday, my happiness reached a high.  My face still hurts from smiling for two hours straight.

Mary and I were both off on Monday. I slept in the morning after my work at the hospital that night, and she ran errands, and did "Mary" things.  After noontime we moved somethings into the shed for the off season.  It was a beautiful fall day with blue skies, a few white clouds, and seasonal temperatures.

"I want to go for a ride on the motorcycle", she said.

I am a novice rider, and had to gain some experience before taking a passenger with me.  After a month, and a half of practice yesterday was the day to grab that next moment.

We ran over to Auburn, bought a helmet for Mary, and drove home.  "Hurry!," Mary said as she smacked my arm, "We're burning' daylight!".  She was little excited.

On the way home, I gave her the prerequisite safety talk about being a passenger on a motorcycle.  I knew she heard me even though her smile was overlapping her ears.

At home we donned our gear, I got on the bike,  and Mary sat behind me.  She gave my back a squeeze, and I could feel her excitement though her gloves.  A deep breath, a prayer, then off we went to Cumberland Farms.

We needed gas.

We gassed up, and headed out for real this time to Route 148 north,  and Route 9 west in Brookfield.

The air was brisk, and the sun was out.  Blue skies with  a few white clouds led the way.  The afternoon sun played with the foliage along the road.  At each stop sign I checked with Mary, and asked how she was doing, and even over the motors rumble, I could hear her smile.

You can actually feel happiness, and I felt not only my own, but hers.

We rode up Route 32 into Hardwick to the covered bridge.  This is one of our favorite places, and it was only natural we would come here on our first ride together.  Riding the bike through the covered bridge over those thick wooden boards was great.  The sound of the motor against the bridges floorboards, and echoing up against the rafters will stay with me for a long time.  We dismounted, took a few photos, and headed back down 32 to Route 9 west, and the Quabbin Reservoir.

Route 9 becomes less wide the further west you go, and has more twists, and curves.  It is a great road for riding a motorcycle.  The scenery is the best, and around each corner I could feel Mary give me a squeeze when she saw a sight that was awesome.  I got a lot of hugs that day.

We entered the Quabbin Reservoir, and rode slowly through the forest that reservoir sat inside of. The leaves were near peak in some areas, and in others they hadn't changed at all.  In the very best areas, where the late afternoon sun was just hitting, the colors were the most glorious.

We pulled over in a scenic area, and stared off towards the water.  It didn't cost us a thing.  The happiness we were feeling was free, all it took was for us to find it.

We rode down the rest of the road chose to ride down by the dam, and back out to Route 9.

Coming up onto the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield the view was perfect with the sun illuminating the trees around the pasture.  The cows looked as if they had been painted onto the scene.  All it was missing was a signature in the corner.  I'll hold that picture in my mind for a long time.

We took Route 148 south.  The Brookfield Common, the Quaboag River, the fields, and woods  lined our ride back home. The sun was beginning to fall below the tops of the trees to our right, and the shadows cast into the fields on our left were punctuated by colors of the changing trees.  Mary's squeezes were held longer, and tighter.  She was pushing the Happy Meter to its limits, and my smile hadn't left my face since we first pulled out of the driveway, and now, as we were pulling back in, it was frozen in place.

There is no secret to happiness.  It isn't some mysterious force that only finds it's way to others.  It's homemade.   Whether you're giving it, or feeling it, happiness doesn't cost a thing.  Be proactive, and don't wait for it to find your face, go find some for yourself.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lifes Map Is Constantly "Recalculating", But You'll Get There Eventually

It isn't a bucket list thing.  No, far from it.

A bucket list thing is something one wants to do before they die in order to feel that their time here on this rock has been one of accomplishment.  Checking off things on a list is one way of keeping track of those accomplishments.

Nothing wrong with a bucket list if one starts it early enough.  If one starts a list early enough then life will steer one toward the items on the list,  instead of the need for accomplishments steering ones life.

An early declaration of goals is not called a list, but rather a map for the path one chooses.  Way points, destinations, layovers, and detours will be all over that map, and they will be added to, crossed off, ignored, and postponed.

I have one of those maps, and I have some postponed items that are now in the accomplished pile.  One of those things on my list from very early in my life was to ride my own motorcycle along the back roads of New England in the fall.

This week, on the first day of autumn, I did it.

The ride was freedom, fun, and a smile that started in Fiskdale, and was still there when  I arrived home again, and putting my bike back into the garage.

I'm still smiling.

When I decided that life finally was at the point on my map that would allow me to head in that direction, I began by taking the required test to obtain my motorcycle learners permit in spring of 2012.  Soon after, a small detour went up when we bought a summer place.  Just a detour, I've had those before, and the road it led me on was either a bit rocky, or better than my original route.  This time it was the latter.

This past spring, with only a few months left on my two year learners permit, and having no time learning, I signed up for a two day motorcycle safety course in Boylston.  Classroom hours, and hours on the asphalt course gave me a basic understanding on what it takes to get hurt, and how to avoid it.  The class also taught me how to ride.

At the conclusion of the course I took a written test, and a practical test on a motorcycle.  I passed both, and was awarded my very own Commonwealth of Massachusetts Motorcycle License.

Almost there.

I put off the idea of doing my long thought of back roads ride for a bit, there were other things that needed attention, and I don't like spending money on myself.

After a thinking things over this summer, reviewing the map, adjusting for detours, I decided to take the next step, and buy a motorcycle.  A tent sale at Sheldon's in Auburn was a very good incentive.  The motorcycle was affordable, in excellent condition, and apparently had been waiting for me.

Over that past several weeks I have taken the bike out and put a couple of hundred miles on it.  Each time I go out, I learn, gain more confidence, and understanding of my bikes, and my limitations.

This past Monday, it was bright, sunny, and the fall colors were starting to appear.  It was also the first day of fall.

It was time.

I took the motorcycle north on  Brookfield Road to Warren Road.  The trees, were changing, especially by the wetlands.  I stopped at a farm stand we usually buy our pumpkins at  in West Brookfield, took a couple of photos to remember the moment a destination on my map had been reached.  I then headed the back way to Brimfield, towards  Route 20, and home.

I have a lot of destinations left on my map.  I know I will be adding more as well, and there are others I will never reach, have gone by, and have been reset.  Reaching a destination is important, but not nearly as important the trip one takes in getting there.  That is where the learning occurs.  That is what makes reaching the destination so meaningful.

This journey took some time for me to reach those red, and yellow, leafed roads of West Brookfield, but it doesn't matter, I made it.   The neat thing is that it may have taken forty four years to get there, but I was sixteen when I arrived.












Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let's Get This Rolling

At the recent selectman's meeting this past Monday night, Selectman Mary Redetzke asked for support from the other selectmen in asking the state for a commuter rail station between Palmer, and Worcester.

Finally.

I've written about having commuter train access for those in the region in the past, and today I am writing again in support of the selectman's plea.  The addition of a rail platform on the existing line would be a tremendous boost to the area.  Commuters to Worcester, Springfield, and beyond in both directions, would be able to cut their commute time, save oodles of money, reduce wear to the roads, and our environment, and do it all by driving a little bit north to the CSX line, and boarding a train.

So simple.

No need for  tracks.  They are already there.  Just a station.  A sheltered platform.  A small investment with incredible returns.

Widening of the Massachusetts Turnpike from 4 to
6 lanes looking  west toward Exit 9 in Sturbridge.
There are some that question whether it would be worth the investment.  I, for one, would like someone else to do the driving on my commute to Boston, and I am sure Mary would enjoy it as well going to Worcester everyday.

A rail station would be an amenity that would attract thousands to an area that has been disconnected since the age of the trolley.  The turnpike was an innovation designed, and built during the Eisenhower years when the interstate highway system was being constructed countrywide.  Based on designs of the autobahn in Germany, modern highways served an incredible importance as our country grew beyond the neighborhoods, and out to suburbia.  The turnpike is mainly responsible for Sturbridge being who we are today.  Problem is, we are stagnant.

The age of the automobile not only spawned the toll road, but has maintained it.  Today, the turnpike is like an old soldier trying on his uniform years after he took it off.  It looked great at one time, but it simply no longer fits. The turnpike was built for 1957 traffic, widened for more traffic in the late 1960's.  2014 traffic is too much for the old road .  It is no longer the care free road from here to way out there, but a clogged artery that causes accidents, lost patience, constant repairs from the load, and travel times far exceeding the times the highway was orignally built to provide.

The highway brought the people to rural America, but is struggling to get them in and out on a daily basis.

Time to shift gears, and put an option out there.  Trains are a fantastic option.

Thank you, Mary, for your passion.




Previous articles on trains for our area:


Thinking Out Loud In Sturbridge: We Have Met The Enemy...

Thinking Out Loud In Sturbridge: Best Regional Idea ...