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, December 31, 2009

"It's All About Me" Votes Teachers Union

I was reading that the teachers union at Tantasqua Regional High School voted not to accept furloughs in order to help close the gap in the school budget. As a result there will be layoffs.

One temporary, for one day, the other permanent, and forever. In these tough economic times an act like this speaks of one thing: selfishness.

I know that times are tough. We feel it. Everyone is feeling it, but when we turn on our survival mode, and aim it only on ourselves there is something wrong.

The furlough would mean everyone going ONE day without pay. One day. The teachers union voted no, and showed how insular they are as a whole. "It's all about me." should be printed on t-shirts and worn by the teachers that voted to insure that their coworkers will loose their jobs instead of everyone loosing one days pay.

We recently had sixteen layoffs at the hospital I work at in Boston. We had a similar number last year at this time. This year is different, though, all of us that survived have been assigned THREE furlough days to take in the upcoming year.

Three days.

And, the amazing thing about it it was there has been a minimal amount of negative talk about the furloughs. You see, it is pretty obvious to us, if it were not for the furloughs the layoffs would have been far greater.

Maybe it's a different mindset, but what ever it is it is still a fairly simple thing, no work for a day, or no work for a lot longer. Doesn't take a a genius to figure out what is better.

The situation I am experiencing in Boston is not only a result of the economic downturn, but other factors as well. Doesn't really matter, though. It is all the same in the end.

The Superintendent Daniel Durgin said he was disappointed in teachers vote. I'd say that was quite the understatement. I am disappointed as well, but more shocked. The "It's all about me" culture is often associated with teachers groups, and this only confirms it. Individually, it may be different, but as a group, it 's not.

The teachers will work without interruption this year. Next year may be different.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to those being laid off, their New Year is not starting off too brightly.

We can thank the teachers union for that. They are only doing their job, I guess, and have taught us all a little life lesson in charity.

You can be sure this is one lesson I will forget.

Kids Free at Old Sturbridge Village in January Free admission for children through Jan. 31;

Includes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and “Fire & Ice” celebrations

(Sturbridge, Mass.) Dec.26, 2009 – Old Sturbridge Village is celebrating the new year with a special thank-you gift for visitors: free admission for children in January – (a $7 value per child). From Jan. 1 -31, all kids age 17 and under get free admission to the Village when accompanied by an adult (the offer does not apply to educational groups of 10 or more).

The “Kids Free at OSV” offer applies for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday on Jan. 18 and the museum’s popular Fire & Ice celebration on Jan. 30, when historians demonstrate vintage ice harvesting. Visitors can try their hands at cutting ice on the Village’s frozen mill pond using old-time ice saws. Other winter activities offered at Old Sturbridge Village include ice skating (bring your own skates), sledding on 1830s-style sleds, and weekend sleigh rides (snow permitting).

After enjoying the museum’s outdoor winter activities, visitors can warm up indoors by one of the Village’s many cozy fireplaces and take part in hands-on crafts and activities. Children can also spend time “pretending” inOSV’s popular “KidStory” indoor play area.

Old Sturbridge Village celebrates early New England life from 1790-1840. OSV is open year-round, but hours of operation change seasonally. In winter, the Village is open Wednesday through Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., and on all Monday holidays, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day. It is also open daily for School Vacation Week Feb. 13-21. Admission: $20; seniors $18; children 3-17, $7; children under 3, free. Admission includes free parking and a free second-day visit within 10 days. OSV members receive free daytime admission all year long. For details, visit or call 1-800-SEE-1830.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ice Skating At Westville Lake Recreation Area

Ice skating available at Westville Lake Recreation Area

Southbridge: Ice-skating at Westville Lake Recreation area is now available. The skating area is located to the left of the park entrance gate. Parking and several benches are provided adjacent to the skating area. Skating is allowed during daylight hours only, and as long as cold weather and safe ice conditions exist. It is recommended that children wear helmets. For further information contact The U S Army Corps of Engineers East Brimfield lake office at 508- 347-3705.

Thomas Chamberland

One Tribe Y'all

The New Year is almost here. A new year. The whole idea of a new beginning got me to thinking on the way home from work yesterday morning. You see, I've seen a few of these new beginnings before. Each one was full of promise, each ended either somewhat less than where it had started, or not quite where it it could have been. That was for the year in general, and for my own personal year as well. I could have been better. I could have done better. Seems that as time has gone by, the changes the world has seen has affected me in subtle ways, too.

Some just call it aging, or maturing, becoming wiser, or more learned. Experienced, that's another name for it. The more I think about it I think it is none of these things. I believe it is just forgetting. Not in the elderly way, but more in a "getting lost in the moment" way. Life does get in the way. A lousy excuse, but it happens.

One of the things I was thinking about was when I was young I practiced "playground ethics". I'd play with anyone, no matter who they were, what they looked like, where they were from as long as we played well together. That is all that mattered. I carried that ethic into adulthood, and still practice it today. It doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, or what you look like if we can "play" well together, and share that ethic, we are good. If there is a reason we can't, then I simply move on. No harsh words, no lingering grudge, I just move on. It's a one on one thing, not a group thing.

So, as I was saying, I got to thinking about somethings on the way home from work the other morning, and that "playground ethic" thing came back to me. Getting along for a common reason. As a child it was for play, and friendship, as an adult it became more involved with all aspects of life, and living on this planet, but was the same. As an adult I seemed to have forgotten the roots of where this all came from, and how much it was so much a part of my life.

I was listening to the song, posted below, from The Black Eyed Peas "The End" CD in my truck. As I listened, I heard a younger self. I was listening to the musical version of "playing well with others". I was taken back to when I was eight years old on the swing set at school, when I was seventeen and protesting for a better world, and trying to live up to those rules later in life. Now, a much newer generation was espousing the same thing. I want to believe they learned it from their parents, friends, by examples set by others, but somehow I believe that, since the theme is so constant, it must also be part of our DNA as well.

And, if that is true, then I have renewed hope for us all, and for the new year.

(For lyrics to song click here)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There Is No "Amazon" In Tradition

Christmas traditions are great. The neat thing about traditions is that new ones can be started every year if you want to. We started a new tradition here on Brookfield Road last year. We decided to give each other a "joint" gift for Christmas. Something we would both enjoy for ourselves, and go in on together. Let me tell you, it saves a lot of thinking, and stress. No stress is a good thing.

Last year we decided to give a large flat screen TV to each other. This is something we would not have bought until one of the old tube TVs died, so it was one way to joining the 21st century, and giving to each other something neat at the same time before the next millennium.

This year we carried on the idea. You see, when you do the same thing for a second time it automatically becomes tradition. We decided back in the early fall that we needed a new computer. My eight year old iMac was becoming too slow to be useful any longer, and Mary's PC, although newer and light years faster was destined to be used by someone else in the family. So, we chose a laptop so we could take it around the house, and if I wanted to sit at a picnic table up at Westville and write my heart away, I could.

Of course, it's the old story. Where does the new thing go? It needs a place. This is like the old story of bringing home flowers. What vase? Well, the vase doesn't match the tablecloth, so the tablecloth is changed, but the wall color now clashes...Oy! Well, maybe a new desk in a different place would be a good idea. Well, thanks to finding exactly what we both had in mind in a Pottery Barn catalog we have been using our "joint" Christmas gift to each other for a few weeks now. Of course, we now have to repaint the room.

I have an other problem though. I really like tradition, but I have a much older tradition that I need to do as well, I need to still give at least one secret gift. I know, it goes against the whole concept of the mutual gift, but it is something I still need to do. I don't go nuts, but I think long and hard about the one thing that will be that one gift. Once I decide on it, and it may take quite a while to decide on, I go for it. There are a few rules I have made for this "other" gift, it must be able to fit in Mary's stocking, or at least on the mantle, and it can't say "Craftsman", or "DeWalt" on the box.

Rules out the canoe "we" want.

This year I ran into a problem. I ordered my "other" gift from You know the place, the online shopping venue that sells most everything, ships fast, and oh, one more thing, has the customer service that rivals the PR folks in the Republic of Iran.

I placed my order last week. I received my email confirmation of my order, and the arrival date of the items. All was well. All was well until yesterday when I went to go online and track my order. I could not log onto my account. Strange. I tried different passwords, starting a new account and checking my order number, my credit card info, and anything else I could think of.


I looked for a phone number to talk to someone in customer service.

Nothing, but after a very long time, I found a place that had a button to contact customer service. I had to enter my telephone number, and then click the button. My phone then rang after 1 or 2 seconds. Strange setup, but they obviously don't want to list their number.

I was told my order was put on hold. What? Why, I asked. They could not give me a reason. They asked me for my banks telephone number, and said a specialist would be in touch with 24 to 48 hours.. That would not do, that would be Christmas Day!!

So, I searched the web for a telephone number for What I found were dozens of web sites dedicated to the poor customer service at Amazon, and their not listing their telephone number on their site, but these sites did list some numbers so I called. Same story, but the second call went to a much more empathetic person located here in the US, and not in New Delhi. I was again told that a customer service specialist would be in touch within 24 to 48 hours. Later that night I received an email saying that my original order was put on hold. No explanation offered, and I was advised to re-order.

You have got to be kidding me.

This morning I thought long and hard about whether or not to re-order the items. Amazon won't miss me if I don't, and I really wanted that item. So, I went back to, took a deep breath, and placed my order once again. The web site said if I ordered within the next 16 hours I could get delivery on December 24th.

I went for it.

I received the usual email from Amazon confirming my order, and now all I have to do is wait, and hope they don't screw it up again.

I know this won't be the start of a new Christmas tradition, because I don't plan on using them again around Christmas time next year, but that doesn't rule out other screw-ups that may haunt me next year.

Maybe I should consider allowing more time to do my shopping next year. Naw, that would be bucking tradition.

UPDATE: As of 2:43 PM, Dec. 24th, Amazon notified me that the item has been shipped out of Nashua, NH, and is on the FedEx truck en route to Fiskdale!! Hooyah!

UPDATE: December 24, 2009 2:30 PM. It arrived! Whew.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Time I Can't Add A Thing

Article published Dec 22, 2009

Board says no to three finalists
Administrator search goes on


STURBRIDGE — Three of the five selectmen took turns last night saying they were not willing to support any of the three finalists for the town administrator position. So now, it’s up to the current search committee to come up with three more finalists.

Donald D. Crawford, former city manager of Hamtramck, Mich.; Pamela T. Nolan, Truro town administrator for five years, and John O. D’Agostino, who was Mansfield town manager for 12 years, were all shot down by Selectman Mary Blanchard, board chairman, and Selectmen Edward P. Goodwin and Harold J. White.

This means that Mrs. Blanchard’s husband, Paxton Town Administrator Charles T. Blanchard, is technically still in the running for the top municipal spot. Mr. Blanchard was one of the three finalists in the original town administrator search this past summer, although the names of the finalists were never officially announced, and a candidate in the just-concluded second search who didn’t make it into the list of 10 semifinalists.

Mr. Goodwin said the search committee brought forth three “good candidates” but his concerns were for the town.

“While I didn’t find anything that made me think that these aren’t talented people, I do have a concern for Sturbridge with the candidates,” Mr. Goodwin said. “So tonight, I wouldn’t be willing to support any of the candidates.”

Mr. White said that while he recognizes the positive attributes of each finalist, he had enough concerns with each one that he would not be willing to support any of them. And Mrs. Blanchard agreed.

“I, like Hal and Ted, I am not comfortable enough with these three candidates to vote for them,” Mrs. Blanchard said. “I would be more comfortable if the search committee brought forward other candidates.”

While all three finalists were nixed, Mr. D’Agostino, however, received backing from Selectmen Thomas R. Creamer and Scott A. Garieri, who is on the search committee. But their support would not be enough to make him the new town administrator if a formal vote were cast.

“For me, personally, I definitely could support Mr. D’Agostino,” Mr. Creamer said.

“John D’Agostino brought a high level of competency and I think he fit the town well with his experience, especially with what the town has going forward,” Mr. Garieri said. “I, too, would be comfortable and looking forward to having John D’Agostino as a town administrator.”

Although he wasn’t in favor of it, Mr. Creamer said if the board is not comfortable with the any of three finalists who were brought forward, then perhaps the board should entertain writing a job description and “wish-list” of what the board wants so the search committee can narrow its search. Instead, the selectmen directed the search committee to produce three finalists, making sure not to say new or additional, so Mr. Crawford, Ms. Nolan and Mr. D’Agostino could all or individually be brought forward again to the board.

“I think we’re all up here to do the best for the town,” Mrs. Blanchard said. “Three of us apparently came to one conclusion and two people came to another conclusion.”

Copyright 2009 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.

Something To Ponder

A couple of really neat things have occurred lately. One being that Governor Patrick has decided not to allow incinerators within the Commonwealth to burn our trash. This is great for keeping the air we breath cleaner than would otherwise be, but leaves something for us to all think about, too.

Incinerating trash would be one sure fire (please, pardon the pun, really) to eliminate the waste generated by all of us, and leave little trace of it except in the ash it leaves behind, and the gases released into the atmosphere. Out of sight, out of mind, but still, not good. So what can we do locally to attack the mountain of waste we generate each week here in town? It has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is in the ground. Yes, there are items that are recycled, but for the most part everything is all mixed together, tossed in a a green bag and left at the curb. Pay a quarterly fee, and presto, no more waste.

It's the out of sight thing again.

It is time for our little berg to adopt single stream recycling as a town policy.

"Single stream (also known as “fully commingled”) recycling refers to a system in which all paper fibers and containers are mixed together in a collection truck, instead of being sorted into separate commodities (newspaper, cardboard, plastic, glass, etc.) by the resident and handled separately throughout the collection process. In single stream, both the collection and processing systems must be designed to handle this fully commingled mixture of recyclables."

If the Commonwealths goal is "zero waste", then this type of program is only down the road for us. The program is very effective at reducing waste, however it initially requires a major capital outlay, something a town our size may not be able to handle alone. We should consider taking the idea regionally. By including a few other towns of a certain population, we would share the cost, and the immense benefit as well.

Something to ponder.

Monday, December 21, 2009

And, Now For Something Completely Different

For Sale: One 25 year old roll top desk. Originally cost about $700.00, but will let go for the best offer. We have a new desk, and this one is just taking up space. No reasonable offer refused.

To Google, Or Not To Google

I think I know where this is going, the selection of the next town Administrator that is. I recently read in a local paper that folks involved in the process were "googling" the candidates in order to obtain more information about each one than what was learned in their interviews.

Nothing strange about that.

Folks have been googling candidates, checking out their Facebook, Twitter, and My Space pages since their inception in order to get a better understanding of those under the spotlight. Job candidates, nannies, candidates for grad school, city government, or the guy that you are thinking of hiring to mow your lawn, all go under the stealth like Google magnifying glass.

Cripes, we even google our neighbors.

There are web sites out there that will even search the public records around the country, if you choose to pay for it, in order to find out about a persons criminal past, credit rating, history of foreclosures, marital status, divorce records, liens, small claims actions, in fact, anything you would care to know about an individual is available on line, including all the media reports as well.

Today, unlike just a few years ago, anything that one does, writes, or uploads to the Internet is there forever, even
if they delete it locally. Somewhere, someone has it on their computer, or in a download folder on their desktop. The same is true for public records. They have always been available, but now with just a few clicks, they are very accessible.

Media reports about a person are easily found as well. Some are free, some require a small fee to view, but if one wants to get another view of a candidate, all they need to do is read up on them in their local paper.

Yep. Hard to keep a secret nowadays.

So, as I was saying, I think I know where this going.

We have three final candidates for the position of Town Administrator, and each has done their best to answer questions posed to them, and to present themselves in the best possible light to the interviewers, but what will be the ultimate way the candidate is chosen is what is found online, and in some cases, what is not found. Yes, I know, it is all about the process, and this other stuff doesn't play into it.


One may have questions like, why one candidate has had several town administrator positions in past several years and one of them was held for a very short time, but there is nothing in the media about why they lasted only a short time. One candidate was bought out their contract by the town they were administrator for. Why? Simple questions that the candidates can each
address during an interview, but there are those that may want a different view, and the Internet will give it to them.

Nowadays, we not only have to be on our best behavior, we must also keep in mind that even if we are, there are those that may hold a different opinion, and share that opinion online for the world to see. We also have to keep in mind whatever we say online, or write, will be there forever. The fact one may act like an ass one year, but find God the next year, won't matter much, since it is the "bad" stuff that people want to know about, no matter how wonderful the person is today. Just look at how Robert Downey Jr. has struggled to recoup after having a bad time in his life years ago. He is succeeding, but not easily.

Yes, the final candidate will not only have to score high in the interviewing process, but leave no questions unanswered that folks find online as well.

Welcome to the other side of the "Information Highway".

Sunday, December 20, 2009


My Dad sent this to me today. Enjoy.

Enjoy The Moment

We aren't the only ones that decorate for the season. Decorating comes from a much more divine source as well.

Now, I am not sure whether it is intentional, or just something we have always associated with the Holidays, but fresh snow hanging from the evergreens, filling the dark voids along the ground, makes the trees look as they were placed onto the canvas by some heavenly artist.

In fact, they were.

The view outside our window this morning brought a warm smile to Mary's face. We were both smiling. The beauty of the scene, a hot cup of coffee, and the Sunday paper do wonders.

The last minute Holiday planning, and chores can wait. We'll enjoy this moment, after all, it is a gift.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Christmas Gift From Elvis & Martina

Technology. Gotta love it. Martina McBride was only two years old when this was first aired, yet, there she is as a grown woman. Amazing.

They do sound great together.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We Love This Because We Have All Done It

Give Yourself The Present

Traditionally, this time of year brings out the softer side of us. Most of us anyway. I'm not sure just why that is. Maybe kinder, softer memories of times gone by, people and places long missed, or something more spiritual are the reasons. Whatever they are, they have an affect on us. The reasons spawn actions that come to the surface in a subconscious way. I don't think we make a conscious attempt at it. Seems that the length of the days, the sight of familiar icons like decorated trees, and menorahs, stimulate something buried for the last twelve months, and brings it to the surface.

Then, there are the conscious acts of getting in the mood. Decorating the house, attending services, writing out cards, planning holiday menus, and inviting folks over to the house, or traveling to someone else's house. Both the conscious, and the subconscious acts have a way of combining, and making us who we are this time of year.

Yes, I know there are those of us that also have a hard time this time of year as well, and all for the same reasons. Strange. It is all based on good memories and feelings, but then something goes awry.

I think I know what it is. Simple really. I believe it is missing those good times, those people that once were part of our lives, and are now no longer there. Actually, it is quite normal.

See, when those familiar, comfortable traditions change, and folks that we love, are no longer there for us to be with, it is sad, but for some of us, we don't pick up the torch that was passed to us. There are others that are in the same place we once were, and are relying on us to make their holidays grand, and full of lasting memories.

Hard to think of us having that kind of effect on others, but it's true, and when we get all sullen, down, and miserable, missing times, and people gone by, we do something else that is just as hard, we miss out on our present. Been there. I've walked this miserable walk more than once.

So, how does one bring on the holiday spirit for ourselves. We can't simply open a jar, or a box of Spirit, and pour it over ourselves. There has got to be another way. Well, back in the early fall, when one starts to dread the holidays for whatever reason, walk into the bathroom, look into the mirror at the face that resides there and comes out only when you're there, and with your right hand, slap it, the face, not the reflection, and say, "Enough. Move on. Get over it". Can't say it will work for you, but it did for me.

All those wonderful memories of seasons past are still with you, and the fact that one misses them so much shows just how wonderful they were, but this is now, and that was then.

Make a point of celebrating with family, and friends what is now in a big way, and you will find that the "now" will become the "then" next year, and a whole new set of wonderful remembrances will be there for you to look back upon, and to add to all the others. Kinda neat really. Have fun today, and smile in the memories of today at some later time. Sort of like a two for one thing at Penny's.

Our Holiday Past is something to keep dear, and perhaps, used to guide us along, but keep in mind it is all about the Holiday Present.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One Of The Best Pop Christmas Songs Of All Time

Keep the Kids Busy: School Vacation Week at Old Sturbridge Village December 26, 2009 - January 3, 2010

(STURBRIDGE, MA) - Dec. 14, 2009: Keep the kids busy during December school vacation week (Dec. 26- Jan. 3) at Old Sturbridge Village, with a wide range of crafts and outdoor activities offered for kids of all ages. The fun includes ice skating (weather permitting - bring your own skates), sledding on 1830s-style sleds, and sleigh rides (snow permitting). Visitors can also meet the OSV oxen, help the farmers split fence rails, learn to churn butter, dip candles, and write with a quill pen. Puppet shows and family-friendly entertainment will be performed throughout the week, and children can participate in “make and take” craft activities.

In addition, Old Sturbridge Village is offering a two-day Winter Discovery Camp on Dec. 29-30, open to children ages 6-17, and a special “Families Cook” evening from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. Dec. 29, where adults and children (ages 8 and up) prepare a 19th-century dinner over the fireplace with help from OSV historians in costume. After learning to chop, cook and bake the old fashioned way, families sit down together to enjoy the meal by candlelight. Reservations are required. For details: www.osv.orgor call 1-800-SEE-1830

At the OSV Winter Discovery Camp, children learn first-hand what life was like in the 1830s by dressing in authentic period costume, learning to cook food over the hearth, and attending a New Year’s Ball. They also learn how farmers get ready for winter and help them with winter work like splitting rails to repair damaged fences. Discovery Camp hours are 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., with extended day care available until 5:00 p.m. For details: 508-347-0335 or register

Old Sturbridge Village celebrates New England life in the 1830s and is open year round. The museum is open daily during school vacation week from 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission: $20; seniors, $18; children 3-17, $7; children under 3, free. For details on all programs listed: www.osv.orgor call 1-800-733-1830.

Contact: Ann Lindblad;; 508-347-0323; 508-886-2689 (cell)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Warm As A Kitten In A Slipper In Fiskdale

I like to be comfortable. Heat in the fall and winter is not only important for our comfort, but our survival. There is a a hitch, however, it can be expensive, unless you use your head.

Heating with wood can save you a few bucks, but the price for cord wood, and wood pellets has risen significantly over the years. The trees ares still there, and they're still growing, but it's the labor that has risen in cost. Heating with wood has become pricey, and the labor at home required to maintain ones warmth with wood has stayed the same forever, it takes a lot.

I've always owned a home that used oil to heat it. I built my first home when I was twenty, and money was tight. I had to decide just how to save a buck where I could, and cutting back on staying warm was just not one
of those things I had in mind, so I developed a plan. In my first house it was heated by forced hot air, not the best heating system out there since it only heats the air in the room, and rapidly dissipates, but I made it work for me.

Today, we have oil fed steam heat here in Fiskdale. The boiler is a little less than ten years old, and although not the most efficient model out there, it does quite well. We have two floors, but only one heating zone. This can be inconvenient, but it is something that can easily be dealt with. Steam heat is great. The room is heated well, and the hot iron radiators radiate the warmth long after the boiler has turned off.
I'll share the simple ways I have always used to save money on heating my home.

Before I get to the exact technique, one has to make sure their home has insulation in it. If you live in an older home with little, or no insulation, the technique will still work, but you won't save as much as you would if your home was insulated.

Check out your windows. Are they drafty? Can you feel a draft around them? Do you have storm windows? First things first, caulk around your windows, make sure your storms are tight. When we moved into this old house in 2006 the windows were first generation replacement windows that were about 30 to 40 years old, and drafty as all get out. We put up that plastic sheeting for the first two heating seasons, and it worked very well before we replaced 19 windows with Harvey insulated windows in the beginning of the heating season in 2007. Within the first three months we saved 36% more on our heating costs!

So, if you don't have the best windows, or insulation, what do you do? Well, work on those things, but in the meantime I will share with you the most effective way to save on your heating bill, and when you do begin to save think about how much more you will save if your house was buttoned up tight.

The Technique.

First, spend $50.00, or so, for a setback thermostat. Get one that allows you to set at least 4 different heating periods through the day, and has the capability to set up a totally different schedule for the weekends. Once that is purchased and installed you are ready. I bought a model that has a little wheel on the side to allow me to increase, and lower the temperature on the fly. A lot easier than opening little doors, and playing with buttons.

Set your early morning house temperature at a time that will insure those in your household will awaken to warmth. Figure out just how long it takes your furnace to heat the house up to a comfortable temperature, subtract that length of time from the earliest wake up time in your household. If it takes 30 minutes to heat up the house, and the first one wakes up at 6:00 AM, then set your thermostat to go on at 5:30 AM.

Simple so far. Now, what time is everyone out of the house for the day? 8:30 AM? Well, then set the thermostat to a lower temperature at that time, and stay that way until 30 minutes before the first of the family returns for the day.

This is all about good timing. Keep that temperature set till bedtime.

Now, this is the crucial piece: SET THE TEMPERATURE LOW. Don't keep the temperature set at 72 degrees, or even 68 degrees. When folks are up and about in your home set the temperature at 66 degrees, and when the family shuts down for the day, and heads to bed, drop the set temperature to 60 degrees, or even a little lower. What?! 60 degrees? 66 degrees!!?? Yep. Now, here is how you will save, you play that thermostat like a fiddle.

When you wake up the house is comfortable, and when it is empty, the furnace is set not to go on unless it becomes too cold, and you are saving money. When people come home, the house is warmed up, and folks are comfortable. Now, here is the most important part, when the temperature does drop down when the family is up and about, just turn up the thermostat three to four degrees. That's it, no more. The furnace will come on, and it will reheat the air, the walls, and take the chill out of the air in short order. If in a few hours, it becomes cooler again, then click it up again.

How is this effective? Well, if you set the temperature for a constant temperature, even a low temperature, the furnace works harder to maintain it. On, off, on, off. Sucking oil, and more oil, or gas. However, if you play that thermostat to just knock the chill out the air a few times a day, you will save money in a big way. One thing to keep in mind is not to set the temperature so low that the furnace must work very hard to bring the temperature up to the comfort level. That would use too much energy to not only reheat the air, but the walls as well. Walls will retain warmth, and radiate it back into the room for a bit. They also retain the cold as well. Things to keep in mind.

So, to review:
  1. Assess your insulation.
  2. Caulk air leaks.
  3. Assess your windows.
  4. Install a setback thermostat.
  5. Set the temperatures on the thermostat to go way back at night, go up in the morning upon awakening, and way down when the house is empty during the day.
  6. If it gets a bit chilly when folks are home, turn up the thermostat 3 to 4 degrees, and that's it. No more. The heat will come on, and it will be very effective at removing the chill. When the temperature comes up, and everyone is comfortable, don't forget to turn down the thermostat again.
Now, this may sound like something that is way too simple to actually be effective, but let me tell you, it works. It works very well. When my neighbors were spending $2400.00 a year in heating costs years ago, I was barely breaking $1000.00, and most often way less. Today, I get about 100 to 150 gallons of oil every four to six weeks from October through the end of March (depending on how cold it gets), one delivery in the late spring then nothing more till the fall, and we use the boiler to heat our hot water, too!

Don't keep the thermostat set at a constant temperature, turn it down at night and when there is no one home, and play that thermostat like a fiddle when there are people home, and you will save a lot of money, not to mention not burn oil, or gas.

Try it for month, if you don't notice a drop in you heating bill then close all your windows and try again. You will save.

Can I save more? Yes. I am not sure of the exact amount of insulation in my walls, but it does seem that blown in cellulose insulation was used at some point. In the attic, there is old rock wool insulation under the floor boards, and replacing it is on the list. Eventually, upgrading the boiler would be great, but like most folks, if it ain't broke... .

Currently, it is 41 degrees outside, not too cold, and the last time the heat went on was at 4:15 AM and was set for 66 degrees. It has not gone on again, and is currently 68 degrees here on the second floor. The iron radiators are continuing to radiate the warmth, hours after they were actively heating. It is now 10:00 AM. If you have forced hot air, or hot water base board heat this the technique I explained above will work just as well. Having iron radiators is just an added benefit, but hot water heat will do the same, to a lesser degree, too, and if you don't let your interior walls get too cold, it will work great with forced hot air.

One more thing. If you know of someone in town that is having issues with staying warm during the heating season, then spring for a setback thermostat for them, and then sit down with them and see just how the technique will work for them.

There is more than one way to get that warm and fuzzy feeling this winter.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saving A Buck, Saving The Planet, And It Is Painless

Solar power is awesome. If you can tap into it, either at home from your own personal panels, or in the grid, it is the ultimate of being green. The up front cost is expensive, although much less than even five years ago, is still a bit dear. Paying for "green" energy through your electric power company is also at a premium as well.

So, how can we be green, and also save a buck, too?

I think I have found a couple of answers.

Over the last year, or so, we have switched out our incandescent light bulbs for those new, curly-que fluorescent light bulbs. We've changed out most every light in the house, and only have a few more to do. Over the last year more varieties of the low energy bulbs have come on the market. They are smaller, come in 3-way varieties, different color temperatures for different types of light, and there are varieties that will even fit those little light sockets in your chandeliers. One problem is that they don't work with dimmers, so those lights over the dining room table have to have some additional thought put into it. Over the past year, as we have increased the number of low wattage , our electric bill has decreased, as did our "carbon footprint". We save anywhere from $20.00 to $40.00 each month now, and we are trying for more, much more.

Yesterday, I read an article in the Worcester Telegram (click here). A local company, Easy Energy of Massachusetts, buys energy from an energy pool, and resells it. The cost is lower than what is offered by National Grid, but National Grid will distribute the power to you, and will still answer calls for issues, and power outages. Expect to save 6 to 15 % off your monthly electric bill.

That was good enough for me. No fees, no contract, no nothing. Just sign up, and begin saving in a couple of meter readings.

Both of these actions are painless, and result in significant savings. Savings, and using less electricity all within our power without installing a wind farm in the backyard, or drilling for geothermal. A great way to start, and painless.

I like painless.

Conquering the battle against high energy costs has to start at home, and starting with saving electricity, and the amount one pays for it, is key, but how about saving money, and being eco-friendly in regards to heating your house? Well, that is something I've been fortunate enough to do for some time, and not by heating the house with wood pellets, either.

I'll share that with you next time, and you won't believe how simple it is.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Village That Slept Finally Awakens

It's alive!!!

Sturbridge has awoken from a decades old slumber over the past year. Signs of life are eeking out of doorways, utility poles, traffic islands, and front yards. From banners to the current Christmas wreaths hung from utility poles and Christmas Trees that are being decorated as you read this and placed about town.

Our town has come alive!

Last year, banners proclaiming "Welcome to Sturbridge" were hung from the utility poles along Main Street followed by flags. Back in the Spring area businesses put on their best face with wonderful gardens in front of their shops and competed to be the best. This summer, around the time of the PanMass Challenge, area businesses decorated the front of their business with cleverly designed bicycles, and in October scarecrows were all over Main Street. Now, it is Christmas, and the pulse of the waking village is beating stronger.

It's like tossing out the coveralls in favor of some new threads from a designer shop, or rearranging the furniture in your home. Getting away from the same 'ol, same 'ol to something totally new is like taking a breath from a mountain top--refreshing.

When things change for the better, even little things, it does wonders for those of us that are fortunate enough to be in the area to enjoy them. It shows signs of life. It also shows our visitors that we are community that is alive, and not sitting stagnant. It does make us more attractive.

I am sure that this is only the beginning. There is more to come in the coming year.

I can't wait.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vigilance Is Still Our Best Defense

Crimes of opportunity. They can happen at any time, and anywhere, if the opportunity is there. We can't be inside the head of all those around us. We have to have faith in our intuition, our gut feelings, and practice personal safety based on our life experiences. Companies screen their employees, but the screening does not scan the prospects mind, and thoughts. Hopefully, a through interview, and background check will remove much of the worry.

Then again...

Recently, here in town, we had a crime of opportunity occur, a young boy was sexually assaulted inside the changing room at JC Penny's by a JC Penny employee. This just did not happen on the fly. It wasn't a spur of the moment act, it had been waited for. The exact conditions had to be present, and this time they were.

Could it have been prevented? I don't know. Could more have been done to make it harder for the perpetrator to do? Yes.

Changing rooms are known for being places where shoplifters hide their booty, and those that have that inclination toward sexual assault stake them out, and if the predator is an employee, then all they have to do is wait. Wait for when the circumstances are right.

Last week, it was right for this employee.

Most stores that have a changing area have a person assigned to the area to monitor the traffic , limit the amount of goods brought inside, and to be sure that the area is safe. At JC Penny here in Sturbridge there wasn't such a person.

A couple of weeks ago we went to Penny's, and Mary used the changing room for a few minutes. I hung around a few feet outside the area. There was no employee monitoring the changing area. No employee in the area where I was making sure I wasn't up to something.

We both thought this was strange for a large department store not to monitor the changing rooms, but they are not to blame for the act. The employee is totally to blame, but access was made easier by the lack of security.

The whole episode should be an eye opener for all of us. Since we cannot be inside of the head of the person next to us, we must be aware all the time. Be alert, don't take chances with ourselves, or assume our children are fine in environments that one would think they would be.

Of course, lessons will be learned. People will be more vigilant. We can do little to stop those that prey from preying, but we can do a great deal to to stop them from from acting. We will not stop it all, but vigilance will make a difference.

Making a difference, like in so many other things, can help, and does work.

As for the young boy, and his family, I wish I could find the right words to make things better, but I can't, but know that you are in all of our thoughts as justice is sought.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

As Sturbridge Turns, So Do The Days Of Our Lives

Right Power

One way for the town, in fact, all of us, to save a bit of coin, and to be green is to consider energy sources not currently used en masse. Geothermal, wind, solar are all ways that eliminate the need for carbon based fuels.

Nothing you haven't already heard for 35 years.

Today, with the glaciers peeling away, Polar Bears being threatened by a melting habitat, the gradual rise of the sea level all due to the rising temperature in our atmosphere from the use of carbon based fuels we all need to look for ways to lower our use of them.

Again, nothing you don't already know, but now the clock is ticking more loudly than ever before. Twenty five years ago I put solar panels on the roof of my house to heat my hot water. It was effective, but after a time became less so, and those in the know to maintain these systems had moved onto other ventures. As a result, the system fell into disrepair, and I eventually dismantled it. It was great when it was working.

Today we have come so much farther than where we were in 1982, and now is the time for all of us to explore the options available. Currently, there are plans for a solar farm to be built off of Clarke Road to produce power and to be fed directly into the grid. This is fantastic, and so far the town is all for it.

Recently, it was announced that the town has qualified for funds, and a matching grant to place a solar power system on the roof of the DPW garage. The system will supply enough electricity to power two refrigerators for a year.

Big whoop.

A sixth grader could build a similar system as a Science Fair project.

Just turn off the refrigerators and save the money for building the system, or the money you would pay National Grid to power them now. The cost of the system far outweighs the benefit.

Just because we use the word "green", or "solar power", or put a small system into use doesn't mean we are doing anything that will be felt globally, or even locally.

We need to think big. Huge.

If the town is serious in helping to remove their "carbon footprint" then they need to think of things that are large on scale, and haven't been considered seriously before. Futzin' around with tiny, expensive projects does little, and as far as gaining good press, well, folks are smarter nowadays. They know when the money could be used better elsewhere, and if a project is only for show and tell.

How about putting wind turbines on up on Stallion Hill where the water tank is? Or, maybe, a solar farm of our own on some town land? Maybe looking into hydroelectric power from the East Brimfield Dam?

These are big, huge projects, but the return would be just as huge. Imagine producing enough power to light up the schools, the town offices, those DPW refrigerators, and having enough left over to sell into the grid?

Whoa. Can I hear a "cha-ching"?

I am not saying that the current direction is bad. It isn't. In fact it's awesome, but we have to stop playing it safe, and start thinking, and exploring beyond our comfort zone if we are to see any appreciable return.