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

Friday, July 30, 2010

One Of these Things Is Not Like The Other, One Of These Things Costs A Whole Lot Less

Do we really need a town meeting to determine what sidewalks would be best along the Common?  Since cost, safety, maintenance,and visual impact are such simple things to consider, can't we do that without a lot of hullabaloo? 

I like brick, but I don't like ongoing maintenance.  I don't want to see folks tripping on bricks, although they will regardless of what a sidewalk is made of,  and I like to save money most of all.  Appearance is important, but by no means as important as safety , or cost, but still it often leads us in a particular direction.  Is the sidewalk to the left real brick or stamped concrete? 

How about this sidewalk?  Real brick, or stamped concrete?  Stamped concrete costs less than individual bricks for installation, and maintenance.  Both sidewalks look great, but which is brick, and which is stamped concrete?

Obviously, these are real individuall bricks.  Looks rather labor intensive doesn't it?  It is.  Translation:  More money.

Real brick, or stamped concrete?  Just one of the many styles of actual brick, and stamped concrete.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the other bricks, just a great album by Jethro Tull from 1972, but I think that some politicians are as the album title states.  It is simple, we only have so much money to use to lay down sidewalks around the Common, yet we want the most cost effective, eye pleasing walkways that are also safe, and will not put the town on the hook for ongoing maintenance.  This isn't rocket surgery.

I think the Board of Selectmen can move on this "major" decision on their own, and not have the town spend an evening in their company at a Town Meeting.  Just consider the above, and stay within the original budget.  If they can't, well then we will need to stick to the generic, gray, concrete sidewalks, or we can talk a bit more, and that we can do that at a Town Meeting eventually.

Note: The top two photographs, and the bottom photograph are all stamped concrete.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Farewell, My Fried Belly Friend

During the summer there are certain things I yearn for all year round that are finally available.  One of those things are Fried Clams.  Those little shellfish heart attacks are something I will enjoy a few times over the summer months.  Maybe some onion rings, and if I order the clam plate, then I will indulge in a mocha frappe.

Healthy eating right here in Central Mass.

I don't do it often.  There are only a few places that I will actually order fried clams.  I'm picky.  There is either too much batter, not enough batter, the batter tastes funky, or the clams look, and feel anemic.  Scrawny little things.

One place I always liked to order clams was at Ronnie's in Charlton City.  The place is clean, efficient, and the food was always fresh.  Ronnie's was at the top of my clam list.

Until yesterday.

They have changed the oil they use to fry with, and the food no longer tastes like it should.  In fact, it did not taste good.

The clams, the fries, and the onion rings had a funky, low fat taste.  Healthier?  Yes, I am sure, but not something I want to spend cash for since the act of eating them is no longer enjoyable.  I commend the owners of Ronnie's in taking the initiative to change their oil for the health benefit of all, but in the case of clams, I need taste, not health.

All good things do come to an end.  Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for using less trans fats in the making, and preparation of foods.  Most of the time one doesn't notice the change, but with fried foods such as clams, one does notice it, and it ain't good.

I guess there are some things that I feel should not be tampered with, and frying clams in anything else but fatty oil is one of them.  If I ate them every day, or even once a week, I would support the change, but I don't, so I am entitled to whine about it for a bit.

There, I'm done.

I do strongly recommend Ronnie's in Charlton City, though.  It is well worth the trip, and if you are a clam connoisseur, who knows, you may just love them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Spy Among Us?

Sometimes it is just too darn easy, so today I'll let this one pass.  That's  not to say at some later date I won't take it for a ride.  

In the meantime, enjoy the Worcester Telegram article, and then decide for yourself.  The soundtrack to read the article by is courtesy of Johnny Rivers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It Weren't No Fat Camp

I received an email from a reader last week that was really interesting.  The reader wrote about the photo of the kids at Camp Robinson Crusoe I posted at the top of the page.  What she wrote was in one way so obvious, but in another way so overlooked.  We have, in fact, become desensitized, and her observation proves it.

Here is what she observed. The photograph shows eight young men sitting in the Quinebaug River on what can be assumed to have been a hot summer day.  Nothing unusual about that.  If the camp was still active I am sure kids would be doing the same thing 70 years later, but with today's "Helicopter Parents", the ones that hover and swoop in to shield their child from anything "dangerous" it just isn't going to happen.  They'll hover, swoop in, and pluck their child from "harms way" and then plop them inside the house where the child will gravitate to the TV, computer, or Wii.

But, this is only part of it.  Look at the body form of the eight kids in the photograph:

The kids have 6-pack abs!!!

This photograph is a barometer of where we once were as a society, and where we are today.  Until recent history, say, the late 1960's, when McDonalds began showing up in most every town, and many moms were no longer "stay at home" moms, kids were the same, active, and playing all the time--outside!  My parents would not allow us to stay inside the house unless there was a tornado warning.

As fast food became more accessible, and parents became more scarce, and less in control of a kids spare time, and diet, kids slowly began to show signs of those changes.  Americas diet changed to quick at home Mac and Cheese, and drive-thru burgers-in-a-box just as Americas activity level was decreasing as well.  A combination that would kill millions of Americans over the next forty years, and drastically change our kids.

No more 6-pack abs.

As time has moved on, and generations have adapted to the new lifestyles, and activity levels of our children, we sit in amazement as Brian Williams describes how fat our children have become.

"Really?  When did this all happen?", we ask ourselves.

We feel as are fighting childhood obesity by limiting a child's time in front of the video games, and TV, signing them up for an eight week stretch of travel soccer, putting granola bars in their lunch box, and only serving multi grain pasta.

Yeah.  That'll do it.

Obviously, something is missing.

The missing particle in the grand scheme of childhood obesity is simple.  It's play.

Real play, not sitting on the couch, channel surfing, Nintendo playing, message texting, video watching or other time sucking activities.

Get vertical and move.  Move a lot, and a bit quicker than running to get the door when Dominoes rings the bell.

Back when that photograph was taken there was no such thing as play dates where kids have to listen to the choir of parents behind them singing, "Don't touch Brianna.", or "Stay out of the dirt.", "NO running!!", "Don't touch that stick", or rock, or leaves, or flower.  Play dates are for parents.  Parental social time they say is for the kids play, and social growth, but it's not.  Forty five minutes of standing and staring at the other kid ain't going to do it.  It's for the parents to talk to other parents with grown-up voices, and to secretly compare their kids development, grades, looks, against another the other kids.

No, there were no play dates back then.  Kids got physical, and played tag, dodge ball, Red Rover, baseball, rode bikes, hiked, and beat the snot out of each other for fun.  And, they did all of the above before noon.  Everyday.

We don't stand a chance.  No six pack abs for this generation.

When I first posted the photograph of those boys sitting in the rapids in the Quinebaug River I saw only another time.  A happy day some kids had while staying at a local camp here in town.  A local, happy time from long ago.  Now, after I received that email, I see a lot more.

One thing I don't think any of us will be seeing anytime soon are eight random kids as fit as the ones in that photo in the same place at the same time.

Yep, those times are gone.

Gone forever?  That's up to us.  We can all start by kicking our kids out of the house early in the morning,  tell them what time lunch is, and hope they find something to do that requires some form of exercise, and not being brought home in a cruiser.  Hope will take care of the former, how you raise them will take care of the latter.

Buying them a bike instead of a video game couldn't hurt, either.  Wild, and crazy ideas like that have worked in the past.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Quite Simple Really

I remember reading about the design for the work to be done on Route 131, and one of the things mentioned was a brick sidewalk at the Town Common.  At the time I thought this was a nice touch, maybe not a period touch, but a special touch for the center of the town.

Now, there seems to be a clinker in the bricks.  The state engineer notified the town recently that the contract for the sidewalks specifically mentions a plain grey sidewalk at the common, and anything else will either increase the price, or pass the maintenance of the sidewalks to to the town, or both.


What happened?  Wasn't everyone on the same page?

To have a bit of a decorative accent on the sidewalks at the town common if fine, but cost must be considered, and maintenance as well.  Of all the options offered from stamped resin on asphalt to real bricks, to stamped concrete, the stamped concrete is the best.

Believe me.

For years I worked with  "Boston City Hall Paver" bricks I had placed around my pool.  The weather moved them about, lifted them, and made hollows in the deck.  I lifted them out one by one, added, or subtracted sand, and tapped each one in over and over again for years.  Lots of maintenance, lots of work, lots of swearing.  Real brick walkways just require constant maintenance.

Now, a concrete walkway with either an accent strip, or the entire walkway stamped with a brick pattern will stay put.  It won't require the maintenance of real brick, and will visually give the eye the soft, "period" touch the designer(s) is looking for.  There area few benefits to this:  1) it will not cost as much as using real brick, 2) it will last longer than resin covered asphalt, and 3) it will not affect the maintenance of the sidewalk. It will still be concrete.

Some communities actually use this stamped concrete on their crosswalks as well.

Hmmmmm....I wonder.....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's A Sign That A Fix Is Needed

First of all, I want to make it clear that I am not fond of the new sign bylaw.  Back on May 17th I wrote of the proliferation of signs here in town that ran contrary to the new bylaw, but I didn't write about them to complain.  I wrote about the signs because after those massive bylaw restrictions that were put into place a couple of years ago in order to make our community "neater, and cleaner", more Steppford-like, and now no one was enforcing the bylaws.

Same old story.  A whole lot of bluster, venting, loud voices, and then, in the end, a gavel falls and new laws are written that are not only ludicrous, and extremely restrictive, but difficult to enforce, if not impossible to enforce.

So, after a couple of years of having their businesses adversely affected by the bylaw there has been a "Sign Revolution" in which the businesses in town have essentially said through their actions, "Enough is enough, and we're not going to take it any more!".

In front of most shops in town there are non-town approved signs.  Some professional looking, and a wonderful advertising addition to the towns "ambiance".  Others are less thought out.

The original bylaw designated that some signs in town were temporary, and had to be just that, temporary.  A permanent sign would be one permanently mounted on a post, or building.  A temporary sign was something that had to be removed after 14 days, and the business owner could only have these temporary signs three times over the course of the year.

Excessively restrictive.  Bad for business, and, I believe that as currently written, anti-business.  Maybe not intentionally, but that is how it has panned out.

OK, there are tacky poster board, or wood signs, badly spelt with whatever paint was found on the garage shelf, or with a Magic Marker®, and those signs should be restricted.  Actually, eliminated, but there are other temporary signs like the one in front of Sturbridge Coffee that is not only neat, attractive, and maintained, it also lacks any misspelled words.  Sounds silly, but that is important.  It shows the signs author actually cares about appearances.

Temporary signs are the life blood of a business.  They announce the menu of a restaurant, what is on sale, or for sale in a particular store, and what is new, or special at a particular business.  These are important things for a business.

Life and death of a business things.

Businesses need signs, and we need non tacky, neat, and informative signs, and if the two can live together, they should.  They should live together for a whole lot longer than six weeks a year.  Cripes, the summer tourist season is longer than that.  Businesses need to advertise more than just 6 weeks each year with a store sign.  If done right, they should be able to do it at anytime.  What is the intention of  a two week restriction, and what does it accomplish?

And, another thing:  We are a tourist town.  Businesses rely on the transient crowd, and signs talk to them.  Flags with the the word "OPEN" are placed outside of a business to attract the local, and the "traveling through" crowd.  Our brains are programed to look for them.  If we don't see them, we assume the business is closed.  Not good.

"OPEN" flag/signs cannot be restricted at all.  Simple.

The Design Review Committee has been revising the bylaws since early 2009, and on July 20th there will be a meeting to update the town on the work of the committee as to those revisions.

I really hope that the committee makes significant changes that does not hinder a business as much as they do today, but will clamp down on the tacky, misspelt signs.  In fact, I think it a should be part of the revised bylaw to enforce the bylaw by giving a dope slap to any business owner that misspells "furniture".

You can find him at the Marketplace at the Falls.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Money Always Make Ugly Pretty

I am sure one hundred and fifty years ago there were some folks around the country that were pretty freaked out by the telegraph poles and wires being thrown up all over the countryside.  Yes, I am sure that was the case, after all, there had never been anything like them before, and look what they were doing to the view.

It just wasn't natural.

Today, the same is being said about cell phone towers, and I agree, they are homely things, but they aren't built for beauty, they are built for function.  Like the  towers that carry high voltage lines for our electricity, they are built for form, not grace.  Yes, there are stealth towers hidden inside of church steeples, and the like, but this concerns towers right there in the open for the world to see.

Would I want one outside my window?  Depends.  Am I getting paid for it?  Some folks have leases with cell carriers, and they receive a couple of grand each month for letting the tower stand on their property.  For some the cash makes the view that much better.  Locally, the Town of Sturbridge will make approximately a half million to three quarter of a million dollars in a deal with Metro PCS for allowing the cell carrier to erect, and maintain a cell phone tower for twenty years.

Well, the cash is certainly attractive for just allowing a tower to occupy some unused town owned land, and significant enough to adjust the zoning for the area of the tower in order for the tower to be built.

The fly in the cell phone ointment is the Sturbridge Hills Condominium Association.  They say the tower will be unsightly, and lower property values.

Yep.  It will.  And, what's more, they won't get any cash to make their view better.  So, they are fighting the construction of the tower.

Well, that is only expected, and the prospect of earning $500,000 to $700,000 for nothing more than leasing some unused property is incentive enough for the town to fight back.

But here is where it gets interesting.

See, if the a special permit is issued buy the Zoning Board to build the tower, and special considerations are made by the Zoning Board to make the tower happen, then a precedent will have been set.  And, here in the land of hills, at the intersection of two major interstate highways there are people from Stallion Hill to Mount Dan to that may want to earn a little extra cash each month from leasing a piece of their land to a cell phone carrier, but due to zoning restrictions, they have not been able to cash in.

If the town gets a tower, those other folks stand a very good chance of getting one as well.  Precedents are hard to argue with.

The argument that Edward Heywood, the treasurer of the Sturbridge Hills Condominium Association, made won't cut it.

"(The tower) does violence to the towns ambiance."  He also stated it would be an "ugly and intrusive structure".  Cash wins over ambiance most every time.

Violence to our ambiance?  I don't know.   Maybe I have become immune to modern day life, and accept somethings for what they are like electricity, and cell phone signals.  Yes, I do believe the towers are ugly, and that they do affect ones view.  I also believe there are options to explore regarding the view, and compromises are possible, no matter what Metro PCS says.  They are always possible if the parties both want a mutual good end result.

In the meantime, we'll all watch this unfold, and see where it takes us.

And, for those interested in learning more about leasing your property to cell phone carriers click here.  Might as well check out the market.  A town sponsored precedent could just make you some extra cash.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


To meet the WATER MANAGEMENT ACT PERMIT # 9P2-2-09-287 01 ( Quinebaug River Basin) issued by MA DEP, the Sturbridge Water Department has been required by MassDEP to enter into a MANDATORY WATER BAN when the Quinebaug river flow rate at the USGS Quinebaug River Gauge Station near Southbridge #01123600 falls below 47.2 cubic feet per second (cfs) for three consecutive days.  Historically this has been mid-August to mid-September.  When and if the flow rate falls below the trigger condition, the following water use restrictions will be in effect and will be enforced to comply with the town's Water Management Act permit issued by MassDEP.  Once implemented, the restrictions shall remain in place until stream flow at the gauge meets or exceeds 47.2 cfs for seven (7) consecutive days.  You can view this flow rate and historical data online at  The Water Department will set up signs on Rt. 20, Rt. 131 and major entrances into town when the water ban is in effect to notify town residents.
  1. These rules apply from July 5, 2010 until further notice.
  1. Non-essential outside water use is not allowed, except that sprinklers may be used for lawn watering outside of the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM one (1) day a week.  Non-essential water use is defined as water use that is not required: A. for health or safety reasons, B. by regulation, C. for production of food and fiber, D. for the maintenance of livestock, or E. to meet core functions of a business. Examples of non-essential use are irrigation of lawns, washing of exterior buildings surfaces, parking lots, driveways or sidewalks unless it is to apply paint, preservatives, stucco, pavement or cement. Acceptable outside examples are irrigation to establish a new lawn during the months of May and September, irrigation for production of food and fiber or the maintenance of livestock, irrigation by plant nurseries as necessary to maintain stock. The irrigation of public parks and recreational fields shall follow the same restrictions.

Lawn sprinklers are very popular, and many people have installed underground automatic systems.  While this can be positive, it can also create serious problems if not installed properly.  Any landscaping company will tell you that the best time to water your lawn is in the early morning or during the evening.  Watering your lawn during the day wastes water due to the evaporation that occurs.  Some experts say that as much as 50% of the water will evaporate before it soaks into the ground on a hot sunny day.    Please cooperate with these rules.

Violators will be subject to the following:
1st offense:   written warning with a list of rules on the warning
2nd offense:  50.00 dollar fine
3rd offense:  250.00 dollar fine
4th offense:  750.00 dollar fine
Subsequent offenses:  750.00 dollar fine for each offense and possible court action

Water conservation is an important way to protect our drinking water by ensuring that we don’t diminish our resource.  As much as 97% of the world’s water is saltwater, leaving 3% freshwater, two-thirds of which is stored as icecaps or glaciers.  This leaves us 1% of the world’s water for drinking.  Needless to say, water conservation will help us sustain our precious 1%.  

Here are a few ways to help out:  Water your lawn only when it needs it. Step on your grass. If it springs back, when you lift your foot, it doesn't need water.  Saves 750-1,500 gallons per month.  Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Saves three gallons each day.  Set lawn mower blades one notch higher. Longer grass means less evaporation. Saves 500 to 1,500 gallons each month.  Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Saves 750 to 1500 gallons per month.

Questions call 508-347-2513.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This Is So Neat

I am excited.  When I drive down Route 131, and look around me and see the work being done in town I find it hard not to bounce right off my seat, and out the window of my truck.

Where do I begin?  Well, for one thing the new road construction is fantastic. New granite curbing, concrete sidewalks sculpted perfectly to meet ADA requirements that will stretch all the way to Southbridge, a new sidewalk in front of the Town Common, a completely renovated Town Hall, and across the street, a renovated Center School, fine stone retaining walls alongside the roadway, a new storm drainage system.

Finally, Sturbridge is entering the 20th Century!  Yes, these things were long overdue, and should have been accomplished years ago in the last century, but playing catch-up is good, no matter how far behind you are.  We'll do fine.

What will be very interesting, over the coming months, is seeing how some businesses adapt to the changes the new construction will bring their way.  Some will cope without a problem, but some are going to have a hard time.  Some already are.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Just Haven't Met You Yet, And I Don't Want To. Not Like This.

So, here's the deal.  I am not working this weekend.  This year Mary and I will be enjoying the Feast and Fire  Celebration in town on the third, and on the Fourth, while the rest of the family enjoys Old Sturbridge Village during the day, and the fireworks later that evening, we will be with Michael Buble.

Monday we will be concluding our weekend with old friends James Taylor and Carole King at Tanglewood.

Now, I'm not name dropping to be, well, a name dropper.  No.  I am sharing with everyone just how wonderful the weekend is going to be.

Reality will set in on Tuesday when I return to work.  I may see some of you there, and I really don't want to.

I work at Shriners Burn Hospital for Children in Boston, and over my years as a registered nurse I have cared for children that have suffered injuries from fireworks both  here at SBH, and elsewhere. I have cared for injured adults in the past as well, and with the exception of the family of kids that got blown up in Nicaragua when a fireworks factory exploded, I can't think of one incident when the injuries weren't the result of stupidity.

Blown off thumbs, fingers, scratched corneas, severe burns, lost sight, lost  hearing, horrible scars, incredible pain, surgeries, skin grafts, and once, loss of life.

Uncle Billy Bob will inevitably come to town after a "run" to New Hampshire for fireworks.  The whole family will gather around the bon fire in the back yard, or along the water for the annual cookout.

Then it happens, and if it involves a child, I will most likely be seeing them after the weekend.

Stuff happens, I know.  House fires, accidents around the bon fire, scalds from hot tea. Accidents are just that, accidents.  Injuries caused by stupidity are different, and accidents involving children caused by stupid adults are criminal.

Be careful this weekend.  I like you, but I really don't want to meet you on Tuesday.  Not like this.