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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Planning The Plan

Recently I've read a few things about the start of developing the new Master Plan for Sturbridge.

I wish the committee good luck. The last time this was done was in 1988, and not much came of it. This time will be different. I know this because it seems that not only are people concentrating on developing the plan, but implementing it as well. Now, this is not to say this was not the case in 1988, but I think back then, the committee that developed the thought out plan placed it onto the laps of other folks that said, "Thank you.", and that was it.

Too much is at stake today. Sturbridge needs to reinvent itself, and this plan is our blue print.

First thing we need to decide on is whether Sturbridge is a tourist destination, or a tourist friendly community. This issue has been raised by a number of businesses, and is important in taking the next step. If we choose a tourist destination then we must rely on things other than just Old Sturbridge Village, or seriously build off OSV on a grand scale. If we decide to be a tourist friendly environment then we need to design our existing infrastructure to accommodate visitors. New signage, information kiosks, parking, and an aggressive recruitment campaign to bring tourist type businesses to town. Each of these directions must also be tailored to accommodate the residents of Sturbridge as well.

Let's take developing the town as a tourist destination first. OSV can only offer so much for the visitor. One to two days of exploring the grounds, enjoying a great meal, and learning about a by-gone era is a bout it. The hotels in town need folks to stay longer than that. Shopping can take up another day, but what we need is another venue, preferably an indoor one, that the entire family can use. Springfield has the Basketball Hall of Fame, Worcester has theBulleted List Ecotarium, Higgins Armory, the DCU Center, and others. We're small town, but we need something that can be a destination on it's own, and spill its visitors to OSV, and the shops into town as well.

We need to keep in mind that we are at the junction of two interstate highways. Few communities can claim this, and those that do, take advantage of it. We need to as well.

I have a few ideas.
  • A theater, or music venue that would attract name talent of a wide variety of genres. Now, if we couple that with a restaurant, beautiful landscaped grounds we will have a destination that will draw from south along I-84, and from the east west along the Pike.
  • Athletic field that will attract championship game from around the Commonwealth. Maybe, Little League championship games, High School playoffs, and maybe an occasional minor league ball game.
  • A major retail outfit like the Bass Pro Shop, LL Bean with other retail outfits that would compliment the anchor. Then promote the areas outdoors to those shopping.
  • Pave the bike paths, make them multi-user friendly for everyone from walkers with strollers to bicyclist, and roller bladders. If we don't pave, we will only attract a certain clientele, and we need to attract all sorts of folks.

Now, if we go in the other direction, to more of a tourist friendly environment, then we need to put on our Sunday best.

  • Improved, and professionally designed signage. A common theme should be decided on and chosen. The theme will link all areas of the town together.
  • Parking. This was in the 1988 Master Plan as well, but is 20 years late, and more than needed today. The parking should be from 50 to 100 cars, and located on Route 20 near the retail shops. A small fee could be charged to park, and residents would have a sticker in order to park for free.
  • A continuing plan for beautifying our streets much on the idea of what is currently done, but in a much larger scale. Large planters of flowers, hanging baskets, seasonal decorations, and a sign bylaw that would eliminate the gaudy signs that some businesses have.
Now, these ideas are just minimal ones, a Master Plan incorporates much, much more. Sewage planning, upgrading infrastructure, lot sizes, the types of residential developments required , building our industrial base, and on, and on.

Most of the ideas I've mentioned above have been talked about by others, and I am sure will be addressed again as time goes on. In a month or so, the residents of Sturbridge will be asked for their input into the process. Suggestions, ideas, and support for ideas already out there will be addressed by those that live here. That input is paramount to making this Master Plan a worthy, and workable one.

One more thing. Industry. This is something that we spend too little time on. We seem to want to promote our history, and outdoors, which is great, but it seems that any talk of attracting more industry to this "Gateway to New England" would threaten those very things.

I don't think so.

Nowadays industry can build in ways that are not only "green", but in such a way as to blend into the community. Our geographical location is a gold mine, and unless we are blind to that very fact, we must not only explore it, but include in the Plan, marketing and recruiting, planning, and infrastructure support for industries that desire to be here.

This one thing alone could attract more tax revenue, more money into our local economy, more residential talent that could help with our continued growth.

So, good luck Master Plan Committee, your job is an arduous one, and when complete, we will, hopefully, be in a better place than now, and for the next 20 years.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Simple Thanks

Simple Thanks

I am thankful we all awoke this morning,
and took a breath of new day

I am thankful for the love surrounding me during the day, lying beside me at night,
and felt from beyond the walls of our home

I am thankful for a warm home
filled with laughter, smiles,
and cats that play fetch

I am thankful for the path I have chosen,
the trail that I have marked,
and what I learned
along the way

I am thankful that what I do is good,
and makes a difference in the lives of others

I am thankful for being me,
without regrets

I am thankful for being there when needed,
and when needed, someone being there for me

I am thankful for the fruit on our trees,
the water in the brook,
the change of the seasons,
and the food on our table

I am thankful that I am a father,
and thankful for understanding
when to act,
and when to wait

I am thankful for the woman I share a life with,
for family,
and family to come

I am thankful for an understanding,
and forgiving God
that placed me here

The reasons are His,
the simple thanks are mine

--W.J. Hersee
November 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our First Snow Job Of The Season

This is a bit much.

"DPW sidewalk clearing efforts spark debate in tough year"

That is the headline on page 9 of today's Sturbridge Villager. Now, read that headline again, and think of all that is says, and especially what it it doesn't say.

Done? OK, now let me fill you in and see if you are thinking the same as I am.

Let me first start off by saying that in the other communities I have been privileged to live in over the years the towns DPW has always taken upon itself to clear the sidewalks. They put them in for the safety of its residents, and they accepted their role in maintaining them. From repairing curbs, to filling cracks, and clearing snow, the DPW was responsible for their upkeep. Goes with keeping their residents safe. If one puts in sidewalks for the safety of people, then those that put in the sidewalks are liable for maintaining that safety of the sidewalks.


Now, there are certain exceptions to this. If a store front is directly on the sidewalk, and snow from their rooftop can fall onto the sidewalk and impede foot traffic, then of course, the owner of the store should touch up and clear the sidewalk once the town make s the initial sweep of it. The store owner should also make sure it is free of ice as well after the sidewalk is initialy cleared.

In the other towns I have lived in there were many sidewalks, sidewalks all over the town. They were there not only for the convenience of pedestrians, but for children walking to school. Here in Sturbridge we bus our kids to school. There are no sidewalks leading to the Burgess School, or to the high school. We bus all of them. Talk about an ongoing expense, but that is fodder for another time.

Greg Morse is right in saying that historically the DPW has been responsible for clearing the sidewalks in town, as it should be. I have watched them clear them and they do a fine job considering what they are up against.

Now, here comes the town Selectman Scott Garieri questioning that the additional $10-20,000 spent annually may not be well spent in a "tough year". A tough year that was chosen to rehab the Town Hall and the Center School.

So, we will leave the sidewalks to be cleared by resident abuters? Some of those abuters own a long length of land abutting the sidewalks, and although the town bylaw states that if you abut it, you clear it, it must be rewritten. Am I responsible for the 304 feet that abuts my property with Route 148? Am I responsible for clearing this road, too? Oh, only sidewalks. Whew.

Morse says the town has a vehicle to clear the sidewalks, however its "footprint" is bigger than the sidewalks.

Now, think on that for a minute. Why would we buy a vehicle to clear snow from the sidewalks that was too large for the sidewalks it is meant to clear? Sounds like shear stupidity to me, or something more, which I believe it is. The vehicles don't fit because their are utility poles in the middle of the bloody sidewalks!!!

Well, duh.

Contrary to the Americans with Disability Act, the poles are in the middle of the sidewalks making using wheelchairs, or motorized scooters nearly impossible to use unless one goes out onto the roadway to circumvent the poles. I have watched mothers with double sided strollers do just that, and last summer I watches as a lady on her Lark scooter scoot around a pole by going off onto the road because she could not fit by one pole in Fiskdale.

The Feds have been patient with Sturbridges continuing to to ignore the law, but those days may be coming to an end. Federal fines, and lawsuits by private persons could add up to well over the million dollars estimated to fix the problem. All it would take is a formal complaint made to the Feds, and watch what happens.

As a result of the poles in the middle of the sidewalks, it makes snow removal a long, and tedious task. Trucks are used with their blades to push the snow off the sidewalks and onto the road, and it is then plowed further and eventually scooped up and removed.

Time consuming, but the only way it can be done.

Now, let's think on those needed sidewalks for the reconstruction of Route 131. Will the town be plowing those sidewalks clear, or will they appoint the property owners along the way to maintain them. Might as well demand the property owners to build them, too.

When the town is spending additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in placing a slate roof on the refurbished town hall, instead of the asphalt shingle one in the original plan, then $10-20K is nothing.

The headline in the paper tries to make the economy the culprit in this debate.

It ain't.

It is poor planning. We should already have those poles removed from the sidewalks in town instead of turfing the responsibility to abuters. Don't put the responsibility on others for the poor planing the town makes.

And, don't listen to those that say the cost is too much. Enforcement of the bylaw will cost plenty as well, and while the town chases those not complying there will be a person that can't hobble over the snow on the sidewalk and walks onto the road, and into traffic.

Cha-ching. Lawsuit time. Precedence will speak for itself in this case.

Just fix the real problem of the utility poles, and put that snow removal vehicle on the sidewalk and watch it clear a path right down route 20 in no time.

All this ballyhoo about cost, machines too big to plow, and abuters responsibility is just a snow job.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick, Someone Call A Plumber

It all sounds a bit secretive, almost secret agent-ish, but in actuality, it's just small town silliness.

The Worcester Telegram article posted earlier today tells of yet another "leaking" of information to the press before it should have been made public. There is, of course, denials of doing so, but in reality, it was. This is all concerning the search for a new town administrator. One would think this was about filling an empty senate seat with so much activity around this one chore.

It's to replace the old town administrator with a new town administrator. Nothing more. The thing that has thrown a wrench into the works is the dream of a local man to be in the list of those considered for the job. It was that "wrench" that sidelined that last search committee and the establishment of a new one, and now, more accusations, and again, the search is in the news.

Here's how I see it. We have a group of folks on the search committee for a new town administrator, all good people, with one thing on their agenda, to fill that position with the most qualified person. Then there is the fact that at least one of the previous candidates is a local guy with ties to town government going back many years. It may be his dream to be considered, if not to obtain the position. Finally, there are those that just can't help not waiting out the process, and have to speak out of turn, at the wrong time, share information with the media they shouldn't, and others calling for their heads on a platter. They may be good people, too, but there sense of timing, and motive are frazzled.

In the end we have a small town, with folks that are small town folks doing what some in small towns sometimes do when they don't have a lot of experience in the larger scheme of things, act out. Not to say that others in the big world don't act out as well, but in little places like Sturbridge, it seems to happen a little more often, and is just plain sillier when you look at it.

Personally, I can't wait till the search is over, and the candidate chosen, and then all the leaking, personal agendas, and demands for resignation energy can be shifted to our next big scandal. It won't ever stop, the energy just gets shifted to another person, subject, or project like the town recycling center and the Board of Health. That is something we can talk about later, in the meantime, everyone should just concentrate on the matter at hand, and if you are not involved in the process, stay out of it, and if you are, then attend to it only in the meeting room, and nowhere else.

Doesn't take a whole lot of thinking to figure that out.

Official upset his letter was made public - A product of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just Venting

Every so often, maybe once a year, I feel a need to go completely off my usual track, and just vent.

Today is that day.

The professional hat is off; I'm venting as a lay person only. I feel it's about time someone did.

Something curious began to happen about 15 to 20 years ago. Seemed that any child, boys mainly, worth their salt, were discussed at length in the teachers break rooms, nurses offices, and at school open houses if it was felt they were being boys too much.

I know, sounds ludicrous, but think about it, boys have this amazing God given ability to be totally bored one moment, and then enraptured the next. During their "down time" they manage to find all sorts of things to do. It is as if they are going down a check list in order to find the most suitable activity for the moment. They may start by making a face at their younger sister on the couch, and progress to the "I'm not touching you" stage while holding their finger a millimeter away from sisters nose. Suddenly, they may spring off the couch, run through the house in search of some toy that only came to mind a moment ago.

That's a boy. I know, 'cuz I is one.

Boys will race out of the house on a Saturday morning, find their friends, hang out, and do a half dozen things all with in the span of an hour or two. From playing ball, skateboarding, shooting hoops, watching TV, maybe a video game, and they will try it all until they find the thing that they are in the mood for most.

They have no idea what that is until they find it.

Now, take that same boy and place him in a classroom.

This is where I almost blew apart at the seams. Thank God for recess. Recess was the one thing that took all that increasing energy, curiosity, and need to be a boy that had pent up inside of me since 8:00 AM, and released it harmlessly into the atmosphere.

My teachers loved recess. If it wasn't for that twenty minute break many of them would never have made it to retirement age intact.

After recess we would run inside, still a bit wound up, but would settle into our desks, and until lunch time, I was able to focus. We all need breaks. Kids are no different. Taking away recesses for the sake of using the time for more academic purposes is a lofty mandate, but only makes matters in the classroom more out of control, tense, and as a result, learning by the entire class is impaired. Try taking away coffee breaks at work, and then watch what happens to productivity, and the attitude at the office.

Around the time that recesses were either decreased, or cut out all together folks started handing out the ADD, and ADHD badges. Once a child was thought to have this Attention Deficit Disorder thing, or even worse, Attention Deficit coupled with Hyperactivity, they were referred to seek help with the pediatrician. The pediatrician would read the recommendations of the teachers, school nurses, and administrators, examine the child, and maybe on the extremely rare occasion, actually see a behavior in his office that could be something similar to ADD/ADHD.

That was rare, but with the advent of new medications that could work for the supposed symptoms, and the constant barrage of notes home about Johny being "out of control", and mothers calling for something to fix their broken children, the prescription pad was the easiest thing to reach for.

The 1990's were glutted with an ever increasing number of "shadow children". Medicinally subdued spirits that were prescribed medication to curb their behaviors for the sake of controlling the classroom.

Chemical spirit restraint.

And, if you don't believe that the process was solely for more control in the classroom, then ask yourself this, why were most prescriptions written for the child to be medicated only on the weekday, or more specifically, schooldays. Nothing for later in the day, or on weekends, school vacations, holidays, or summer vacations.

Nope, just the days of the week where disciplining an unruly class, or child, might be a task a teacher, or administrator was not willing to take.It is about control of the restless, the bored. Seldom are there teachers wise enough to adjust their teaching model to include theses children. Stick to the curriculum, teach in the manner one was taught to. A challenge is a hindrance. The one thing that most will say is, "The rest of the class suffers if we don't follow through with referring a child for professional help".

An easy out? Maybe.

Yes, it is easier to calm the child with chemicals, instead of using that natural energy to every ones advantage, and adjust the method of teaching, or curriculum.

Can't really blame the teachers, they are only doing what they learned in school, and what is pushed by their colleagues.

Then who can we blame?

I don't know their names, but they're the same ones that have found the diagnosis of autism under every rock in the school yard.

One in sixty. Autism.

ADD, ADHD, Bi-polar, Autism.

Now, don't get me wrong. Autism is real, as is ADD, ADHD, and Bi-Polar disease, it's just not real for everyone diagnosed with it. Yes, there are actually those with those diagnoses for real, but there also far more with the only the label instead.

No longer is Tom athletic, or Joshua brilliant, or dramatic, or shy, or outgoing. Those descriptions are passe, today it's a diagnosis that is used to describe the child.

I do believe that there is something to it all. Maybe it's because of cell phones. Think about it, as the cell phone has increased in popularity and usage, so has the number of our children being labled.

They almost go hand in hand.

Do I believe this to be the case. I have no idea. I haven't seen any studies, but the thing is that as technology has flourished, so has our ability to assign syndromes, and diagnosis to those around us. Is there a connection from all those seeking answers online today for behaviors that just 25 years ago were considered just plain old normal behaviors?

Better yet, I believe that a decade and a half ago there in colleges and in schools around the nation, there were those that spoke of ADD and ADHD, and what to look for in the classroom, and like a warped game of "Telephone" what was taught at that time was taken to the extreme in the classroom. What else could be the explanation if there is no environmental reason?

Today, if your child has been diagnosed, ask yourself how was the diagnosis made? Was it on referral from a teacher? When you arrived at the pediatrician was the prescription pad the end result of the visit, or was there a referral to a child psychologist? Was there any testing done? Has your pediatrician been the only professional treating the child? And, most importantly, what about followup? Is it only yearly? And, by whom? Has the medication stayed the same over time? Has there been "medication holidays" built into the treatment plan in order to reassess the child?

So, why am I venting on this today? Because if ADD / ADHD was a viable diagnosis when I was in grammar school I would have been it's poster child. I was easily bored, rambunctious, and always looking for a laugh.

I drove my teachers crazy. funny thing is that each one recognized what was needed to be done to control me. They would adjust the days lessons for me so I wouldn't be so bored, and restless. They used my interests to focus me more on the work at hand. Did it always work? No. Just ask my classmates, but it worked enough to be able to advance me each year. In junior high, things got the best of me, and I was always doing time in the principals office, or after school, except on those days when something was being taught that I was very curious about. Then I was quiet, attentive, and a totally different child.

Go figure.

I am glad I didn't attend school in the past 20 years. I would have been medicated to fit in, my spirit subdued, my creativity buried, and my choices may not have been the ones I would have made if I was not medicated.

Today, while you are running about town, think about it what I've written. I may be so far off track that it may not be worth the time to think on it, but then again, I may be right. Anyway, it's not all about me, it's about your child. And, by all means, continue with the treatment plan in place for your child, and don't adjust it, or stop it on your own. Sit down with the practitioner that is treating your child, review the plan, explore options, and share your concerns. Don't let others lead the way, you are your child's best advocate.

One more thing, keep in mind that there are those that are properly diagnosed, and treated, and as much as we may not like to see it, your child just may be one of them. On the other hand...

Just think on it a bit.

Are Boys Being Punished For Acting Like Boys? - Health News Story - WCVB Boston