Autumn in the North Cemetery.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Sturbridge Mystery

"Re-printed from the October 1958 issue of New Englander Magazine.--ed

My Sturbridge Mystery

William Foster

In the fall of 1948 I was on a drive to Albany, New York for a business meeting with the owners of a new department store that had recently opened. Back then I seldom drove such long distances on business, however this was a trip not just for business, but to also visit an old friend that lived not too far outside of the city. It was trip I will always remember, and wish I could forget as well.

I left Boston around three o'clock on Wednesday afternoon after I had completed my sales reports for the week. My itinerary included two stops en route to Albany. One stop was one third of the way to my destination in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and the other was to be somewhere in the Lee, Massachusetts area. I felt that dividing my trip into thirds would be easier on my automobile. It was a pre-war sedan that had been used by a neighbor while I was overseas. He owned a hospital supply company and used the auto for deliveries throughout the Boston area. Since his job was vital to the war effort he was not subject to the gas rationing most everyone else experienced during those years. Now, me and that former delivery wagon were on our way west. The rain started minutes after I had left.

I drove on US Route 20 for a little over two hours, and arrived in the town of Sturbridge just before evening. I had been to Sturbridge several times, and was familiar with the roads in the town, but for some strange reason, I missed my turn, and had to turn back and look for my turn off. The rain had long abated, but there was a heavy mist like fog along Route 20 that limited my visibility. The headlights on my automobile strained in the dark, and I slowed my speed to a walking pace in order to see the road, and my turn more clearly.

After a few minutes I found the previously hidden road, and turned right. I was headed for the center of the town, and to an old inn that overlooked the village green. I had stayed there a few times, and thoroughly enjoyed my stay, and the menu. For the life of me, though, I cannot remember the name of the inn. There are many things I cannot remember about that day, except for the memories that have kept me awake at night ever since.

I found the inn just where I left it two years prior after I had returned from Europe. The sun was setting, and the daylight just about gone from the air. I parked, and took my bag inside to the desk to check in for the night. I had called in advance and they were holding a room for me.

When I entered the inn I noticed the unmistakable scent of burning hardwoods. A pleasant smell I remembered fondly from when I was a child growing up in Wayland. I placed my bag near a chair against the wall, rang the little bell at the front desk and then walked about examining the pictures on the wall as I waited for the clerk.

I was becoming quite hungry, and only wished to check in and to sit down for a good meal in front of the fire. I opened my watch and noticed it was now after six o'clock. I had been waiting for the clerk for close to twenty minutes.

I turned to the front desk, and there behind the old wooden desk was a young lady. I had not seen, nor heard her come into the room. Her sudden presence had startled me somewhat. She was dressed in a simple dress that touched the floor, and on her head was one of those white cotton hats that have a ribbon woven just above the wavy end of the hat. It was similar to the hats seen in old paintings from the revolutionary war times.

At first I thought this strange, but since the inn hearkened back to the late 1700's, and there was a new museum in town that was devoted to this time period, I later thought she was dressed in costume for the benefit of the tourists that had been coming to the town.

"My name is William Foster. I believe you have a room for me", I said once I regained my composure.

The clerk smiled, and looked into her ledger, and after a time looked back at me.

"Sir, I don't see your name listed among our other guests", she told me.

"I had called earlier today, and spoke with a gentleman that had assured me there was a room available, and that he would reserve it for me."

"Sir, I have been here all day long, and I don't remember seeing you before. I do have one room left that is available for one night only. Will this help?", she asked me while smiling the most engaging smile I had seen in a very long time.

I didn't have the strength to argue the point, besides her smile was so disarming.

"Yes. Yes, I will only be here for one night. I travel to Albany tomorrow."

"Very well, Sir.", she said, as she turned the ledger towards me to sign.

She handed me an actual quill to write my name. I had not seen a real quill pen in many years, and the ones I had seen were on display at the Old Statehouse in Boston.

"You folks are really going all out for this colonial New England stuff, aren't you?"

She lifted her head from the ledger, and just smiled.

I placed my bag into my room on the second floor, changed my clothes and headed back downstairs in search of a meal. I noticed the woman was no longer at the desk as I walked by on my way to the dining room at the end of the hall.

On the right was a wide door leading into a large hall. The fireplace glowed red from the low fire within, and except for the occasional candle, this supplied the only light into the room.

I found a table close to the hearth, and was soon greeted by a large man wearing a button down, collarless shirt topped by a dark vest. The firelight struck his clothes and revealed shiny areas on the front of his vest that exposed the waiters favorite place for wiping his hands. I thought this a bit odd for such a well know, and widely acclaimed country inn to have amongst its staff, a bit of a slob.

"What can I get for you, Sir", the man asked, "Would ya be wanting a drink, or a meal this evening?"

"I'd like some wine to start..."

"Sorry, all I got is ale, and maybe a bit of rum."

"Fine. I'll have an ale."

"And, would ya want something to eat as well, sir?"

"Can I see a menu?"

"I have venison, and potatoes."

"That's it? Venison and potatoes? Nothing more?"

"And, bread."

By this time, I am not sure if the fatigue of the day, or my extreme hunger that made me order the venison and potatoes and ale, but whatever the reason was I was glad I had. It was the most filling, and delicious meal I had had in a very long time.

The waiter told me he would add the meal to my bill as he brought me another ale. I thanked him, and took a seat in a fine old upholstered chair near the fire. I watched the fire for some time. A young boy came in, his arms loaded with wood, and he dropped the wood on the hearth, and then scampered off. A few men came into the room a short time later, called for the waiter and asked for some ale. The men stood behind me, and after a short while joined me as I sat by the fire. They nodded their greeting to me, and sipped their ale, all the while talking in loud tones about their day. It was obvious they were just off work from the new museum, Quinebaug Village, since they were still dressed the part they had played all day.

I listened intently as I finished my ale, and soon, excused myself, bid the men goodnight, and left the tavern heading for my room. The men nodded in response and went back to talking about what men playing farmers and such talk about after work.

When I got to the hallway I decided to take a short walk outside. The rain had long disappeared, and the temperature had risen enough to maintain the mist that had accompanied me on my drive into town. The air smelled of smoke from the chimneys of the homes surrounding the what the town referred to as the Common, a large parcel of open land with many large and ancient trees. At one time this land was used for the training of militias, animal grazing and more recently, agricultural exhibits.

As I walked across the road I noticed that there were only a few lights on within the fine old homes. Soft, dim lights, and in one, or two of the windows, there was that soft red glow of the hearth reflecting against the glass. It was only eight o'clock, or so, and I thought it strange that it seemed that everyone was down for the night. Then again, this was the country, and people most likely rose for the day quite early.

Once I had crossed over to the Common I saw a couple not too far away. They were walking from the main road towards the opposite corner of the parcel where the road to Worcester was plainly marked by a large wooden sign. I watched the couple make their way across the Common emerging, and disappearing in and out of the mist, and from behind the large old trees. I called out, "Good evening." towards them, but they were so engaged in conversation I don't think they heard me. The fog was now very thick, and I watched the couple walk behind a tree near the road to Worcester, and I watched for them to reemerge on the other side.

They did not. I thought I must have lost them in the mist, but the disappearance was so sudden, and complete I thought better of that, and ran over to where I had last seen them.

There was nothing. No one. I looked as far as could in the dark down the road, and saw not even a shadow. The only sound was that of a wagon pulling up the inn.

How could they have moved so quickly? Although it did bother me a bit, I wrote it off to the weather, poor lighting, and the landscape. I walked back to the inn, and entered through the front door.

"G'evening, sir. Are you alright?", the girl from the front desk asked me as I entered the hall.

"Yes, of course. Just out for a walk. I am off to bed now. Good night, Miss."

"I've warmed the bed for you, sir, and left the warmer full of coals on the grate in the hearth. G'night, sir", she said softly as I climbed the stairs. Warmed my bed? How quaint, I thought, but realized it was something that needed to be done once I was upstairs. It was very cold in that hallway, away from the fireplace downstairs.

I entered my room, and felt the linens on my bed, and they were indeed, very warm. I kicked off my shoes and without so much as washing up, or removing my clothes, I fell deep asleep.

I slept very well that night, and my dreams were quite realistic. I will share those with you at some other time for they would take many more pages to explain.

In the morning I awoke to a beautiful autumn morning. There was a frost on the grass of the Common, and the yellow and red leaves littered the ground around the old tree where many leaves hung in defiance of their fate.

I went downstairs and was met by a very friendly clerk at the desk.

" Good morning, Mr. Foster. I trust you slept well."

"Yes, I did, thank you. I am fit enough for the second leg of my trip, but first some coffee, and breakfast would be nice."

"Of course", he nodded and led me to the dining room. The room was much brighter this morning than the poorly lit one I had dined in the previous night. I was seated at a table by the window, and handed a menu by a lovely waitress.

"G'moring", she chirped to me, "Would you like some coffee?"

"Yes, please. I feel very good this morning, and may even attempt to complete my trip to Albany today."

"You will certainly avoid others on the road by traveling on a Sunday."

"No, no. I am going to leave today", I corrected her.

"Yes, today is Sunday, Mr. Foster."

I sat back in my chair, my mouth open as I watched other patrons stroll into the dining room. Some were clutching the Sunday paper they had just purchased at the front desk. How can this be? I left home on Wednesday afternoon. This should be Thursday morning.

"Are you sure this is Sunday? I came in on Wednesday, last night. Ask the girl that was working the desk, she'll tell you", I implored.

"Only Bert works the desk, Mr. Foster, there is no girl that works the reception desk. I think you still need to wake up a bit", she said as she poured my coffee, "I was just getting off yesterday afternoon when you arrived. That was Saturday. This is Sunday".

She smiled, then told me to let her know when I was ready to order.

Well, Dear Reader, I must tell you that I walked from the dining room, and immediately grabbed a newspaper form the desk. It was a Sunday paper.

I cannot explain what occurred that night in Sturbridge. I have been without an answer for ten years. What I can share is that the new account in Albany was obtained somehow, and it has been the highlight of my career thus far. It led to my leaving sales, becoming a writer, and eventually to my position as editor here at New Englander Magazine. I have returned to Sturbridge many times since that autumn, and tried to recreate the circumstances that so bewildered me.

Had it been a dream? Was I ill with fever at the time? I feel I will never know. I do plan on returning to Sturbridge next week, and I hope to solve this illusion once and for all. I only wish that I could forget that original visit, and return to a normal nights sleep once again.

Editors Note: William Foster did return to Sturbridge in the fall of 1958, however he never returned to his position as Editor at New Englander Magazine, and has not been seen since. Of particular note, when his disappearance was investigated, and the small grave yard beside the inn was searched, a grave stone was discovered that had previously not been recorded in the town records:

William Foster
b. 1803 d. 1848

A wayward traveler
Who lost his way
in time

A strange coincidence in even a stranger mystery.--ed."

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

History Poll Results

The results of a recent poll are posted below. They are as I had anticipated, largely in favor of learning more about our history here in town. If you would like to learn more about any time in our past, or have a suggestion please contact Bob Briere of the Historical Society. Bob's knowledge of the towns past is vast, and he is always willing to teach. Some indicated that they had objects of significant historical value concerning the town. If you would like to share the history of those objects so that others may learn, please contact Bob.

One thing out town does need, without question, is a central place in which to house and display the historical artifacts of our past. Currently there is no place. Other towns have a town "museum" such as the Ryder Tavern in Charlton. Of all the places one would expect to find such a place, Sturbridge would be number one, but it isn't even in the running. A room in the soon to be refurbished Center School would be great, especially in one of the second story rooms with the book shelves and glass cabinets already in place.

Write to the Town Administrator, and the Town Selectmen and tell them of the need.

The results of the poll are below.

Would you like to learn more about the history of Sturbridge?
Would this be something that you would like to involve your children in?
Would lectures and slide/video presentations be something you would enjoy?
Would a tour of the historic sites in town be something you would like to do?
Do you have anything of historic significance concerning the Town of Sturbridge that you would like to share with others?
Do you feel that preserving our past is important?
Would you like to see artifacts, photographs, and documents concerning our town put on display?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Don't Pave Paradise

Today I received a comment meant for the posting on October 23, "Learning About Our Yesterdays". Since not everyone reads the comments, and this particular comment is not only a good one, but sincere, I decided to give it a place of its own.--ed.

"I feel like treasuring what we have has been made to feel like a crime in this town. Does treasuring our town mean we don't want to see us prosper? Of course not! Isn't the Joni Mitchell lyrics fitting?

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you’ve got‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But LEAVE me the birds and the bees
Please!Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got‘Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot "

Posted by anonymous

--from a comment posted to 10/23/08 "Learning About Our Yesterdays"

Joni Mitchell in concert 1970

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Learning About Our Yesterdays

Yesterday afternoon I went to the library. I haven't been in a few years, but at one time I went fairly regularly to snoop around the Historical Society archives, and the other printed artifacts on the second floor balcony.

If you have ever desired to know more about this town we live in in, this is a great place to start. Many people over the years have contributed their time and a great deal of effort to research different aspects of Sturbridge. The work is quite detailed, and the photographs show a much different town.

One photograph in particular was stunning. Taken from the high hill south of the Quinebaug River up behind Dunkin' Donuts and looking down into Fiskdale it shows a well laid out village along the river. The tree covered hills to the north of Main Street are meadows with several stone walls running though them as is the hill the photograph was taken from. Along the banks of the river are grasslands. A much different landscape than today, although man made at the time, the meadows are now all overgrown, and our landscape has reverted back to as it must have looked 300 hundred years ago. The species of tree has changed since then, of course, but the open, large tracts of land the settlers cleared, and were worked till the early to mid 20th century are long gone.

It's sad in a way. Part of leaving our mark on the land is the building of homes, stores, factories, and roads, and clearing the land for timber, farming, and grazing land. The roads and houses remain mostly intact, but the land that they were built on is no longer the same. I'm not sure if this better, nicer, or prettier, but it certainly is much different.

In a number of the photographs many of the older homes are shown in their earlier days. For most of them, little has changed. Many of the homes were either torn down, burnt down, or left to fall down. One home was a fine old two story federal home on Kelley Road off of Haynes Street (Old Route 15). The home was a fine looking specimen 30 years ago, but was abandoned and left to fall into disrepair. It was torn down a few years ago. We lost a bit of our history on that day.

Another remarkable thing about this place in the library is the number of people photographs. Placed in loose leaf binders, and printed from negatives archived at Old Sturbridge Village, the 100 plus year old images show an assortment of people, and activities. From businessmen beside their horse drawn wagons with their names emblazoned on the side, to family portraits on the front lawn of their home, children standing outside the Center School on Main Street across from the Town Hall, workers at the Fairgrounds, and ladies in all their Victorian finery standing on the observation tower at the park that was once behind JC Pennys these images show a place that is so far removed from todays village that is hard to imagaine it being the same place.

Which is the reason I am writing this morning.

The town may have the same name as it did one hundred years ago, and in many sections of the town, it may still have some of the old homes, and buildings, but it ain't Old Deerfield, and isn't the Sturbridge of old either. We have lost much of what made this town what it is. Old roads, bridges, buildings, meadows, and homes have been lost forever.

We need to stop the bleeding of our history.

Take an hour out of your day, and take the kids to the Joshua Hyde Library. Go to the rear of the main room, and there, in a wooden cabinet against the rear wall is a treasure trove of pictures and written information that will astound you. Look them over, and show them to your children. Once you have a feeling for what once was, you will see why it is so important to keep what we have left.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time To Relax And Reconnect On The Common

The annual Harvest Festival in Sturbridge was this past weekend. Live music, carriage rides, "Train" rides for the children, food from several restaurants in town, craft vendors, and of course, the famous Scarecrow Contest were all part of the festival. We went on both Saturday and Sunday, and although the weather was somewhat colder on Sunday, the chili warmed me up.

Annual events like the Harvest Festival are important for small towns. Timing is important, too. Traditionally, when the work of the planting season is over, and the harvest is done, we can let our hair down, relax, and enjoy the "fruits of our labor". This is why many country fairs occur at the end of summer, and in the fall.

Gatherings like this aren't so much to buy dried flowers from the vendors, or wind chimes made from whiskey bottles, they are a chance to reconnect with the village. The rush of the summer is over; vacations are memories, summer projects completed, and the kids are back to school. Finally, we can gather the clan, pile into the car and head to the Common to seek out those we have missed for the past few months.

One last meeting before the holidays creep in and take over our lives, and winter settles around us causing us to hunker down til Spring.

We met some folks that we had not seen in a very long time on the Common over the weekend. We caught up with what they've been up to, remarked how their children have grown, and celebrated their successes.

It was a good, and necessary break from the routine, and allowed us to restock on hand salve made from bee's wax, maple syrup made just up the street, and see friends we've not seen in some time.

Good times.

Monday, October 20, 2008

1st Lt. Joshua L. Booth. USMC

Please click on the link below for an article written by the mother of 1st Lt. Joshua L. Booth. USMC of Sturbridge. Lt. Booth was killed in Iraq on October 17, 2006.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Excuse Me While I Have A Fit

There has been a lot of commotion about the Southbridge Landfill over the past few months, and well there should be. Landfills are ancient history. Many towns no longer allow them, and the old dumps, and landfills have been filled, capped and pipes placed in them to allow the tremendous amount of methane gas to warm our atmosphere further.

So what do we do?

We recycle as much as possible. In 2008 we cannot become a nation that has a policy of "zero waste". No, not yet. That will come, in time, but today, it is impossible. Manufacturers have to change packaging of their products to being 100% recyclable, and the town must mandate recycling for its residents if that is ever to occur.

Currently, there is no mandatory recycling bylaw in town. Other towns have it. We don't. If we want to have curbside recycling we must pay our rubbish removal company more money.

Strange. We pay them more to take away recyclable things that they get paid more by the ton by the recycler.

Talk about double dipping.

Burying our trash for future generations to suffer the consequences from it is so 1960's.

Hello. It's 2008. Trash processing has come light years since then. Whole plants take a load of trash and through multiple conveyor belts, magnets and other machinery sort out the metal, wood, refuse, and garbage. What can be recycled is recycled, what is organic, and can be used used as the basis of organic fertilizer. Wood is sent off to co-generation power plants, or chipped into something useful.

But, burying our trash?

In 2008?

That act alone is enough to mandate a psychological exam on all those involved in giving the go ahead for such a ludicrous project.

Meanwhile, the company that will be trucking the tons of trash to Southbridge is on Cloud Nine. They actually found a place in the Commonwealth that still allows stuff to be buried for future archaeologist to dig up and study, and to verify that we were pretty damn stupid. Just as the Romans ate off of lead plates and with leaden utensils, we poisoned ourselves, too.

I'm all for incineration, too. A few thousand degrees of fire, some hi tech scrubbers in the smoke stacks, and we will be far better off than dumping it in the ground and covering it with some plastic and clay.

Talk about "thinking out loud". I think I am actually ranting.

You see, I have little tolerance for stupidity. The kind of stupidity that comes from ones genes I can understand, I have my moments, but the stupidity coming from refusal to learn fully about a subject, take the easy, and more dangerous way out, and just being a "good friend" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) of a business, I can't tolerate.

And, neither should you.

Heck, I'm miles away from this disaster. We'll be away from the smells. Our water should be fine while I am here on this planet, but anyone south and east of downtown Fiskdale should worry.

Worry a lot.

If Southbridge wants to be put on the map as one of last places to allow wholesale dumping and burying of trash within its borders, go down in history being known for solely that, and being voiced in the same sentence as Woburn, and Ashland then it is NOT OK. There is too much at stake here.

Public safety. The health and welfare of the public. More than words. They account for a great many of the laws in the Commonwealth. Why would burying present and future poisons be any different?

The folks that are fighting this landfill are going about it ass backwards. Don't fight the landfill. The trash company has it made, and that is a whole other subject. Fight what is trash, and where the trash can go. Make mandatory recycling a law. Nothing gets picked up, or dropped off unless it is separated, and sent to a recycler. Nothing comes into to town to be disposed of unless it meets that requirement, and if it does, then Southbridge gets a piece of the pie. Heck, it's their land.

Don't get all balled up worrying about access roads through wetlands to the dump, or any other "back way" offense. It won't work. Not at this time. Too much money has been passed around, and much more will be spent to fight it.

Take a stand, and make not only a statement for the health and welfare of ourselves, but for those little brown eyes that stare across the table at you at dinner. Do it for their kids.

I am the furthest thing from a tree hugging , anti-trash, recycling extremist. I toss my soda cans in the trash. I won't spend the extra money to the trash collector so he can take my recyclables away and make more money. I won't even take the time to go to the recycling center and separate my plastics and glass. It's not that I don't care about the earth. I do. But, I am just like the majority of you. If it is OK to mix my glass and cans in the trash with my newspapers, and no one is going to get their shorts all in a bunch, then I'll do it, too.

But, if you make disposing of our trash more of a challenge to me, like Worcester does for its residents, then I am one of the herd like everyone else. I'll do it, too.

Change the laws. Make what they plan on doing impossible to do here, and they either adapt and make some serious coin from recycling, or they move on and another, brighter and more ambitious company takes their place.

There. I'm done. I've got to take a breath.

And, take out my trash.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Google Sturbridge

We see the traffic in town, and we know people from other places come to visit us, but wouldn't it be great if we could eavesdrop on what they thought of us after they got home? It would be a fantastic way to see ourselves through the eyes of others.

Well, we can, and I've been doing it for some time.

No, I'm not a Secret Agent, just an everyday goof with Internet access. Go to and at the top of the page is a selection of services. Click on the "More" button, and then select "Even More", or simply go to This will bring you to a page where you can make your own Google Email alert about any subject you want. Type in the keywords you want searched such as "Sturbridge", and then choose where to look for the word. If you choose "Comprehensive" it will search through all the choices for you. Next, choose how often to email you the results. I choose " As it happens".

Now, you're all set to receive the latest news, photo postings, blog entries, and anything else on the web where your keyword is mentioned. Of course, you will get some irrelevant stuff, like anything mentioning the word you chose, and they could be far removed from what you are interested in. Normally, the more keywords you put in, the finer the search results, but keep in mind, not everything that posts on the Internet will use some of the other words, and you may miss some of the great things that only use "Sturbridge", and not MA, or Massachusetts.

Once you begin to receive your alerts in your email, click on the ones that you are interested in and read away! Some of the best ones come from Blogs. There are a lot of Blogs out there. Most written by everyday folks and they all seem to have a particular theme: Single parent, home schooling, Catholic mother of nine, Outdoor Life in Central Mass, History, Quilting, Road Trips.
You name it, there is a Blog for it. When you click the link to the posting, and read the posting you will be sharing what the writer has to say about "Sturbridge". Coming from a source not connected to the town, except by a visit, makes the post a little more meaningful. It will tell of their impressions, and how their day went, but not much more.

Insight is more valuable than hindsight.

Many of the Blogs will read the same. The writer will talk about Old Sturbridge Village being a place representing American life in the 1830's with lots of old houses, and costumed people, and their impression of the place. Recently I've been reading some Blog postings by a group of foreign exchange student from Spain. Each one had a different opinion of how they spent their day using their limited English, but it was good to see how they interpreted our history. One Blog in particular wrote of visiting King Richards Faire in Carver, Ma, and Old Sturbridge Village. The person was amazed that there was the flag of the old Franco Spanish government hanging from a "castle" at the King Richards Faire. The writer could not understand why this was done since it is so far removed from being medieval as the faire portrays itself.

Interesting, and their comments about OSV were just as good.

So, if you "just gotta know" everything there is about a certain subject, sign up for those Google Alerts.

We can learn just as much from another persons experience as we can from our own.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It Could Not Have Come At A Better Time

News & Announcements

Updated: October 16, 2008 (En EspaƱol)

Social Security Announces the 2009 Cost-of-Living Adjustment

(October 2008)
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 55 million Americans will increase 5.8 percent in 2009, the Social Security Administration announced today. The 5.8 percent increase is the largest since 1982.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding period of the current year. This year's increase in the CPI-W was 5.8 percent.

The 5.8 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that over 50 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2009. Increased payments to more than 7 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 31.

For more information, read our press release.


A Touch Of The Ol' Sod Would Be Nice

I was driving on Route 20 the other day when my mind flashed back to a time when I was flying down a highway in Ireland. That Irish highway began to shrink. The lanes were actually converging from a multilane modern highway to a two lane road. At the beginning of the two lane road was a small four to five foot tall yellow kiosk warning of the road narrowing for the next few kilometers.

I was beyond puzzled, but as I drove on I found the reason: the road was going through a small Irish village with little room to handle a multi lane highway. The essence of the town would have been destroyed for one, and the other reason there simply was not enough room to make it work for the houses , shops and businesses along the road. Once through the town, the roadway widened again to its former multilane self.

I found this road set-up in several places in Ireland, and I have to say that looking back on it now with what I've learned since then, it is a great idea.

Many years ago, Route 20 was a main highway from east to west and back again. From Boston to the Pacific Ocean the road ran uninterrupted. Today, it merely augments the Mass Pike, but serves as the main roadway into all the towns hanging onto the southern border of the Pike. It still is an important roadway. Over the years the road has been made safer, wider, and more traffic signals installed. The history of so many fatalities on the road made updating it imperative, but, there is something I don't quite understand.

Why was Route 20 widened to four lanes all the way to Cedar Street? At the time it may have been a good idea. Increased traffic during the Brimfield Flea Market times, or to better handle local tourist traffic may have been a couple of the reasons, but why not just wean it down to two lanes at Route 131, and pick it up to four lanes again where it changes now near the Sturbridge / Brimfield line? Why this four lane monstrosity through town with a median strip, guardrails and jug handle turns?

Just seems like it is a design that came from some the desks of some highway design interns in the 1980's, and they over designed it to get a passing grade. Not much thought went into esthetics's, and functionality in conjunction with local businesses.

What if the road was redesigned and returned to two lanes in this area? There would be additional land available for street side parking, landscaping, tree planting. Would the roadway, and the surrounding structures begin to take on that small village look that has been gone for so long, and would it have a positive impact on the businesses that line the road?


A tall order changing a roadway from four lanes back to two, but just may be one of those things that deserves some further thought. It may be a total looser of an idea in the long run, but since I have heard this mentioned by others in town since I arrived eight years ago, there may be some merit to it.

The system seems to work well in Ireland, there is no reason that it could not work well here as well.

Alas, sometimes thinking out loud is more like daydreaming.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Moving So Slow, They're Almost Parked. Well, Almost.

I received the following email this morning. The parking lot for Sturbridge was included in the now ancient Master Plan from 1987. It's a great idea, and I am glad they are pursuing it 21 years later.

Things just amble a bit slower here in Central Mass.

"The Town of Sturbridge is seeking proposals from property owners to lease to the Town land to be used as a parking lot. The land must be located in the Commercial Tourist Zoning District (Route 20 from the intersection with Route 131 to Route 148) and provide a minimum of 50 parking spaces that comply with zoning. Details of the RFP can be obtained from the Office of the Town Administrator. Sealed proposals must be submitted to the Office of the Town Administrator, 308 Main Street, Sturbridge, MA 01566 no later than December 1, 2008 at 12:00 p.m."

Finding a good place will be hard. There isn't too many large, open parcels in that area. One, that I've mentioned before, is the land adjacent to the former Le Petite Bakery on Route 20 across from Cedar Street. It's open and flat, and large enough for 50 cars. The only other spot I can come up with is on the south side of Route 20 at the intersection of Holland Road. It's an out of the way place, but if the land was leased maybe it could be leveled off, repaved, and access stairs / ramp be made to go from the lot to Route 20.

Ideally, the lot across from Cedar Street is the best, and if the vacant old house can be worked into the lease as well, it could augment the Information Center on the westbound side of Route 20, and possibly offer more for the tourists as well.

Just a thought.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

That Warm Feeling

We have steam heat here in Fiskdale. The oil fired boiler is about 8 years old, and although it is not rated as the most efficient one on the market, it does well. When we moved in to this old house in April of 2006 there was a very sharp learning curve when it came to learning about steam heat. I had forced hot air for too many years, and more recently forced hot water, and old radiators elsewhere in town.

I like steam the best.

First of all I had to learn how steam heat worked, so with the help of tutorials from the guys at Pioneer Oil company, and what I learned online, I was on my way to getting as much as I could from the system. The first thing I did was to replace all the old valves on the radiators. These valves are the little thermos shaped things that stick out of the sides of the old iron radiators that allow the steam coming in to displace the air in the radiator. Once I replaced them and set them for most efficient setting, I sat back and tweaked them for a month or so. The radiators that didn't heat well, or not at all began to heat up really well.

Next was figuring out how to eliminate the banging in the pipes, they sounded like a steel drum band on some nights. The thing with steam is once the steam is delivered to the radiators it will heat very well, but as the steam cools it turns back to water and hangs about in the pipes unless it drains fully. The radiators need to tilted a bit toward the pipe that brings in the steam to drain the water effectively, and about once a month I drain the entire system of all this extra water from the pipes, and the sound of steam banging against water disappears.

Took a while to figure that out.

All in all, the radiant steam heat is great. It is a lingering heat, not like forced hot air that heats the air, and once it is shut off, the house soon cools off again. The iron radiators radiate the heat for sometime after the thermostat shuts things down.

When we first moved in and had the system inspected, one thing that was strongly advised for us to do was to replace the ancient oil tank. It must have been at least 50 years old, and showed signs of rust. It would have been a disaster if it begun to leak. The guys from Pioneer Oil came over, disconnected the the tank, pumped out the oil from inside of it, then cut the old tank in half in order to remove it from the cellar. Then, the new tank was put in place, and the oil pumped inside.

Amazing job in my eyes. It was all in a days work to them.

Last fall I had a insulation company come over and give us an estimate for blown in cellulose insulation. We opted to replace 19 windows in the house instead in December 0f 2007, and saved (as of March) 36% compared to the year before.

That was neat.

I also bought a set back thermostat last fall. It replaced the old, round Honeywell thermostat that had been on the wall since Ike was president. Now, this was a great investment. I set it to go on around the time Mary wakes up in the morning for work, and then to maintain a decent temperature in the 60's during the day. In the late afternoon it will warm things up as everyone comes home, then shut down around bedtime. This particular thermostat has a wheel on the side that allows for easy adjustment if I need to take the chill out of the air if I happen to be up and around when things are set for being cooler. I really think this little contraption has saved me some dollars, too.

This past summer I was working on the house, and removed some vinyl siding and old clapboard, and found large circles cut into the walls with cellulose insulation in them. It looks like the house was previously insulated with cellulose, at least in the section I was working on. For a 150 year old house I was very happy to see this.

On thing I did this fall, that I had planned on doing for some time, was to place 1/2 inch sheets of rigid foam insulation with the aluminum reflective/radiant coating behind each of the old iron radiators. These will prevent the walls behind the radiators from heating up and and the warmth seeping outside. I think it is working. The furnace seems to shut down sooner now with the heat being reflected back into the house.

We'll see just how effective that was in the spring.

There are more things I can do around here to improve my heating costs, and I will take each of them on as time goes by. Things like placing foam insulation on my water pipes in the basement, using more spray foam insulation in the little cracks and crevices that every old house has, and replacing a couple of exterior doors. It has become a contest. Each month, or so, I try to see if I can beat the previous years oil consumption, and try to do something new to improve things here on Brookfield Road.

In the meantime I have those little digital indoor thermometers in different rooms of the house, and I watch them to see if the house is heating evenly, or if a particular radiator needs adjusting.

So far, so good.

Fighting the cold can be a daunting, and expensive thing to do, but with each little thing that you do, it will make a difference. Think out what you need to do, make a list, and then spend what you can to make those improvements. Don't get overwhelmed. One way to see how well you are doing is to take out your old heating bills from last year, and compare them to each heating month this year. With each improvement you do, you should begin to see signs of fuel savings.

Now, don't forget, fuel costs way more this year, so don't go by the dollar amount, instead measure it against the unit of fuel you use.

Oh, and one last thing. As you learn more about how to make your home warmer, share what you've learned with others. Check on your parents situation, your sister and the house she has with all those kids, and your older neighbor.

Just knowing you have helped will give you, and others a warm feeling.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Redesigning Pleasantville

Sturbridge is giving some thought to the future planing and building of neighborhood developments. This is a good thing. Not many communities put in the hours discussing mundane subjects such as this. A developer applies for a permit, or two, plans are reviewed, changes made to conform with the existing town bylaws and regulations, and abutters are included in the decision making. Then, after a year or so they have a cul-de-sac with ink stamped colonial homes on 1.5 acres of land, a few trees in the front, a unusable forest in the rear, a sidewalk, and streetlights.

The American Dream.

Well, it might have been in 1964.

The ideas Sturbridge are working on is to have developers plan more in depth to include open space in their design, cluster housing, and recreational space. There is a lot more details to the idea than what I have just mentioned, but the you get the idea--to use the land differently for the benefit of all.

Back a couple of hundred years ago a neighborhood started in the center of a town. Merchants lived above their shops, or around the corner from them. People built homes near where there was work to be had, such as around mills, and factories. Farmers were the only people that didn't live in a neighborhood. They lived away from the center of town, their homes centered on their large plots of land, and they came into town when ever they needed supplies or to attend church.

Eventually the neighborhoods expanded outward from the center as more people arrived in the town. It was good to stay close to Main Street since everything to be had, like stores, and churches, was within walking distance.

This is the neighborhood model that existed until just after World War II. After the war there had to be houses for all the returning veterans, and there just wasn't enough of them. With the development of Levittown on Long Island, the modern, cookie cutter housing development was born. Similar houses, on similar plots with similar landscaping all connected by looping roads that led only further into the development with usually only two ways out to the main road.

This was Pleasantville. I grew up in such a place. I thought nothing of it back then. It offered space to play in, neighbors close by, and the uniformity of the houses lent a sense of belonging.

Today, more thought needs to be placed on the designing of housing developments. Elsewhere in the country they are being designed, and built in clusters with less land for the individual homeowner, and more for ball fields, playgrounds and passive open space. Land is preserved, and sensitive land is conserved without adversely affecting the neighborhood. Some developments have small stores built within them which is not only a convenience for the homeowner that is 3 miles from town and out of milk, but is a green initiative, too, since the homes are all walking distance to the store.

It may be a bit too early to fairly judge the plans Sturbridge has in mind since they are still in development, but its good to know that the town is heading in a positive direction regarding housing developments.

With so much land available here in town for development, it is important that the very most be made from it not only for the benefit of those that will live there, but for the rest of the town as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Learn To See

Put your camera in your car. OK, not right this second, but when you're done reading get out of the chair, grab the camera and go stick it in your car on the passenger seat. The next time you are out and about town it will be waiting for you to take a photo.

Of what? Well, it's fall. Take a picture of anything. Having the camera waiting beside you is one way to learn to see, and not just look. If you know it's there to take a photograph you'll soon learn to see good photos long before you put them in your camera. Things you ride by everyday, and not think twice about, you see in a different way. Everyday things. Random things. Even the most common views somehow are seen differently as the light changes throughout the day. Watch for it. Notice it. Then take a picture.

After a fifty or so photos you will begin to notice something: those places, and things you looked at everyday as you walked, or drove by them, are different. You begin to see the afternoon light touching them and casting a shadow down one side. The color of objects will take on different hues as the light changes during the day. The same object can look totally different at 4:00 PM than when when you saw it 11:00 in the morning. You start to analyze the scene. Compose the shot better, and in a short time, your photographs will start to look like masterpieces.

It's strange how we may know that the light changes throughout the day, but may not have been able to actually use it for something creative before. Just having the camera beside you, and not even putting it to your eye, opens a part of your brain you probably haven't used very often before. A creative place, and once you open up that creative right side of your brain more often, for some reason the black and white things coming from the left side are analyzed easier, and understood better.

Don't know why, just happens.

"How is the Right Brain / Left Brain Concept Relevant to Artists? When you start a painting, you need be able to to visualise the final painting in your mind (right brain, working from the whole), then develop the painting, choosing the elements, matching and mixing colours, placing in the shadows and highlights (right brain, working on various things simultaneously), but at the same time be able to look critically at what you've doing (left brain, being analytical). By finding out whether your thinking is dominated by your right or left brain, you can then deliberately set out to use the 'right brain' way of thinking in your painting or drawing, rather than working on 'auto-pilot'. By trying a different strategy you will probably be surprised by what different results you can produce." Source

Something so simple, yet it accomplishes so much. You'll start to actually "see" instead of just look, and you will critique your work and improve in a short time. When both sides of the brain are working in harmony you will begin to see, and analyze other things like problems, issues, and opinions in a different way as well.

And, as an added bonus, you will also have some great photographs to hang on your wall.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

This Is Great!

Dear Town of Sturbridge residents, employees and friends,

On behalf of the Grand Trunk Trail Blazers and the Town of Sturbridge Conservation Commission, I am proud to inform you that we are a finalist in the national "Save the Trails" funding program, made possible by the generous efforts of Nature Valley and American Hiking Society's National Trails Fund. Adding to this honor is the fact that we were selected from a competitive pool of 160 nonprofit applicants from across the nation. From October 1-31, you may learn about our cause and vote for us at The top 10 finalist with the most online votes will each receive $5,000 in funding, so your vote will help us to get one step further to revitalizing the Camp Robinson Crusoe trail in Sturbridge. This money will help us to create an accessible trail on the property during summer 2009. Please pass the word along and encourage other hiking and outdoor enthusiasts to vote for us at We hope to give a great gift to our community by revitalizing the Camp Robinson Crusoe trail - a gift that will only be possible with your vote of support. (Please see the direct link below)

Thank you in advance and happy hiking!

Very Sincerely,

Erin E. Jacque
Conservation Agent
Town of Sturbridge308 Main Street,
Town Hall
Sturbridge, MA 01566
(508) 347-2506(508) 347-5886 (fax)

Strange Case, Indeed

Today I had some time to catch up on some reading. Nothing too deep, mostly online things sent to me. I read a few pieces, and after reading two in particular, I could not help but think of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story.

Strange how the mind works.

"Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
is a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886. It is about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Edward Hyde.

The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, split in the sense that within the same person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality each being quite distinct from each other; in mainstream culture the very phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" has come to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next

This is different from multiple personality disorder where the different personalities do not necessarily differ in any moral sense.

--From Wikipedia

It's been 3 days since this was posted, and comments are now closed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Something to Consider During These Hard Financial Times

"If you had purchased $1000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago you will have $49.00 today.If you had purchased $1000 of shares in AIG one year ago you will have $33.00 today.If you had purchased $1000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago you will have $0.00 today.But if you had purchased $1000 worth of beer one year ago drank all the beer then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling refund you will have received $214.00. Based on the above the best current investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle. It is called the 401-Keg. A recent study found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year. Another
study found that Americans drink on average 22 gallons of alcohol a year.

That means that on average Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon! Makes you proud to be an American!"

--submitted by Patty in Greenville, SC

Passing Grades Are Important Throughout Life

Most of us have a job. The percentage of us that don't are either retired, or unable to work for whatever reason. If we are a single parent with a few small kids we still have a job: raising our children. In fact, even if we are retired, we still have responsibilities that others expect, and may even rely on us for. The point is, most of us have obligations to others whether it be a company, or other people, and how we perform that job will determine if we get to keep that job, or get transferred to something more our speed.

The job evaluation is an important part of grading our performance. Doesn't matter what our job is, someone other than ourselves will rate our performance. At a conventional job it is usually our immediate boss, or someone in Human Resources that hands out our annual review. That review is meant to show areas for improvement, and to acknowledge what we do well. If we are the single parent, then our review may come from relatives, or teachers, or in some cases , the Commonwealth.

Here in Central Mass even farmers have an annual review, that's what Fairs are about. Blue, red and white ribbons are awarded to those that have submitted their work for review. Red, and white ribbons are prized just as much as the ultimate blue ribbon. Those ribbons acknowledge a job well done, but also tell us that someone else has performed better. The ribbons set a goal for the farmer: to win the blue ribbon next year.

I've had my share of performance evaluations. Many have been great, and some have been, well, not so great. With some of the "not so great" evaluations I have chosen to improve, and subsequent evaluations have shown that I did. Other times, I felt I was being unfairly graded, and I wished my boss would retire, or move to Uruguay before my next one.

Performance evaluations are also a private thing. Most companies treat them as they would treat how much you earn each year. But, there are times when evaluations can be had for public consumption. Public officials are subject to this, in fact, any public employee is also subject to this. Is it a good thing?

That depends on the intent of the person obtaining the information, and how the information is ultimately used.

Let's say a small town hires a person to administrate things in the town. Let's call that person a Town Administrator for lack of a better word. Now, let's say that person performs well. Great. Give him a good evaluation, and keep him on another year. This is how the system works.

It's simple.

If that person has an off year, well then it must be addressed as the events occur obviously, but they must also be addressed in the annual review as well. After all, the person was hired to perform well for the benefit of an entire town, and if that is not going as well as it should it does need to be addressed.

But, who are the evaluators? Are they the people that hired the administrator initially? Is it a separate board? And, more importantly, if the evaluation isn't what it should be, for whatever reason, and it does get into the publics hands, should it become the fodder for discussion?

Well, it is obvious the evaluators are anyone the town assigns the responsibility to, it most often is the group that hired the person initially. The other question is not as easily answered. If the town relies on the review for continued employment in the position, then, of course, it should be reviewed, and discussed. Past evaluations should also play apart in the discussion as well. Was this year a fluke? Were the evaluators unduly prejudiced? Were the examples of poor performance addressed as they occurred, or were they ignored till the review was presented?

Those are all normal questions to ask. They come hand in hand with the position, but what should never be a part of the process is for private citizens to question the review, and accuse the reviewers of being underhanded, vengeful, and hurtful. That is, of course, unless they have substantial evidence. Real evidence, not 15 pages of time stamped, he-said, she-said BS taken from some meetings minutes, or a video transcript of a meeting that didn't go as well as you wanted. Don't infuse any part of yourself into the events. It's not about you. And, don't point the finger at the reviewers for their foibles as the reason a good evaluation was not made. Stick to facts, not opinion.

Either way, let the evidence talk.

Was a specific event reviewed accurately? Was the result of the event what the reviewers would have liked to have had occur? If it is accurate, and the reviewers did not like how it was handled, then so be it. Nothing more to say.

They are "The Boss". Doesn't matter how well things have gone in the past, it is these events, these current events that are being graded, and if they don't past muster, that's it.

Now, if you want to blame the reviewers for the other persons poor evaluation, that's like blaming your hand for falling into the pit bulls mouth after it was bit, it makes no sense.

So, here we have it, a red ribbon, instead of a blue. Instead of starting a food fight in the Vegetable Pavilion, let's use it as a lesson learned, and expect a blue ribbon next year.

That being said, let it be known that all eyes will be on this during the coming year. If performance on a particular matter is not what is expected, then it needs to be addressed then, and the issue made public, and not kept a secret till review time. And, if by some freak of chance, it is as the detractors have repeated over and over again, a Witch Hunt, then let the vegies fly! And, I'll be there to whip a few zucchinis myself.