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, October 29, 2010

A Great Move

Old Sturbridge Village extends CEO’s contract

by Boston Globe Staff

The Old Sturbridge Village said its board of trustees has voted unanimously to extend to 2014 the contract of the living history museum's president and chief executive officer, Jim Donahue.
"Since his hiring in 2007, Donahue has reversed decades of declining visitation at Old Sturbridge Village, posted two straight years of attendance gains, increased donations by 25 percent, and balanced the museum's operating budget for the first time in more than 10 years," the village said in a press release, which noted that the gains have come despite tough economic times.
Old Sturbridge Village depicts early New England life in the 1830s.
Donahue's strategy has been to focus on cost cuts and on improving the visitor experience by expanding the museum's front-line staff of historians in costume, the release said.
"Visitors today want to be part of the action," Donahue said in a statement. "That's why our interactive experiences at the Village, like talking with costumed historians and riding the stagecoach, are so memorable."

A Bit More Than Just Lipstick

You know, all in all, and despite the fact that some places that could have done with a bit more thought, the Route 131 rebuild is looking quite nice.

Since before automobiles had taken to the road between Southbridge, and Sturbridge, the highway has had its share of  issues.  Originally a path, and then a roadway for horse drawn vehicles, it narrowed between rocks at some places, went through wetlands at others, as it curved about the landscape looking for the best route.

Today, houses and businesses hug the roadway in places, and in others there is little to restrict the roadway.

The improvements made this year during this current rebuilding of the roadway were long overdue.  The road surface was pock marked with years worth of repairs, potholes, frost heaves, cracks, and overall road surface failure.  

The width was tight in areas, especially in places where the road narrowed due to of large amounts of rock ledge impinging on the roadway, or where a hill came right down to the very side of the road.  The road has been widened greatly, and those hills, and rocks cut out, and walls built where needed, and guardrails placed against the rock walls.  Eventually, Route 131 will be widened right to the the town line with Southbridge, and that should happen sometime in the coming year.  Construction will slow, and come to a stop,  over the winter.

My favorite part of this roadway rejuvenation?  The sidewalk.  It is awesome.  Something so simple has freed, and will continue to free, those that have yearned to walk, and stroll safely along our Main Street.  This concrete structure will last beyond our lifetimes.

Now, there have been issues.  Designing and building against an ancient, and unyielding historic backdrop has complicated some places with poor design, and questionable techniques.  Intersections, and bricks come immediately to mind.  Despite the facts that bricks are not exactly historic for our area, they did have a place historically in Boston around Beacon Hill, as did cobble stones in the street.  The bricks do add a measure of warmth to the area, and will last a very, very long time with the concrete base, and mortar they were set into, and held in place with.

The only fault I can find with the bricks is that they were not free, and the intersection will stay with us, despite it's flaws because we are not strong enough, or wise enough to pursue a correction.  It's all spilt milk.

Yes, all in all, this time next year will reveal a much improved and completed roadway, and despite the issues, it is something we can all be proud of.  It will bring the town into the modern era, and show visitors that we do care about how we look.

It is way more than putting lipstick on a pig.  This time we actually did the whole nip, tuck, and it looks great.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Community Leaders To Be Honored

Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce
Honors Three Community Leaders

Sturbridge, MA, October 26, 2010 -- The Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce will be honoring three outstanding individuals during this year’s annual meeting to be held on November 10, 2010. The recipients of this year’s awards are as follows:

Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award – Mary McGlynn
Citizen of the Year Award – Janet Garon
Businessperson of the Year Award – Christine Tieri

Mary McGlynn is always the first to respond to calls for volunteers for Chamber events. She also coordinates many volunteers each year to help staff the Chamber booth at all three Brimfield Shows. Ms. McGlynn gives much of her time and effort to set up the booth, which gives the Chamber greater visibility in the community.  In addition, Ms. McGlynn created welcome baskets for new members, which also provide a way for members to promote their businesses. She took charge of this project and has been vital to its success—soliciting and picking up donated materials, arranging baskets, and ensuring that they are delivered on time for each event. Her perseverance and dedication have helped to contribute to the success of the Chamber. She is also actively involved in the Harvest Fest, and donates her time to many other Chamber community events as well.

Janet Garon is a retired bank executive with a long history of community involvement—working to improve the quality of life in South Central Massachusetts. She holds top positions on a number of boards, including Giving Trees for Life, Inc.; Rehabilitative Resources, Inc.; and the Blanchard Means Foundation. She has been Co-Chairman of Southbridge FEST since 2006, a Corporator for Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge, and Chairman and Treasurer for the Sturbridge Republican Town Committee since 2000. A member of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Ms. Garon is a volunteer for Tri-Valley Elder Services in Webster, Meals-on-Wheels since 2001, and in 2004 was a recipient of the George Wild Award. Ms. Garon was a former Chairperson for many committees in South Central Massachusetts.

As the co-owner of smith&jones, Christine Tieri has helped in the marketing of many local businesses. Her company offers high-concept, strategic planning usually associated with larger, big city markets. In addition, Ms. Tieri was one of the founders of Tantasqua Education Foundation—a non-profit organization that provides financial resources to help students develop their skills to reach their full potential. For the past eight years, her company, smith&jones, has contributed over $350,000 worth of marketing services to various non-profits during their 24-hour CreateAthon, a program created and launched by Ms. Tieri. Organizations including Health Families of Southern Worcester County, Second Chance Animal Shelter, Festival of Giving Trees and more have benefitted from this program. This past year, the CMS Chamber website was created by volunteers through the CreateAthon. Ms. Tieri also supports many noteworthy causes. She is a tri-athlete who has raced to raise funds for Breast Cancer with the Tri-Community YMCA. She has also participated in walks for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, Relay for Life, and is a volunteer for the United Way’s Day of Caring.

The Chamber’s annual meeting will be held at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center from 11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. This year’s guest speakers will be Richard E. Hoyt, Sr. and Richard E. Hoyt, Jr. (Team Hoyt), who will be giving an inspirational presentation themed “Yes You Can.” They are also authors of the new book,Devoted, which will be available for sale after the meeting.

Both Chamber members and non-members are invited to attend. 


Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Lunch will be served at noon.
Cost: $30 per person, or $230 for a table of 8
Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center; Southbridge, MA

To reserve your spot, call 508-347-2761 or email by no later than November 3rd.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interesting Concept...., But Where Is It?

TV Treasure Hunters Turn their Sights on Storage Units

by John Stevens October 25, 2010 8:55 PM TV Treasure Hunters Turn their Sights on Storage Units

What’s behind door number one? How about door number two? These doors aren’t part of a game show, they belong to storage units. The auctioning off of stuff packed inside abandoned storage units is becoming an exciting trend. A purchaser could either have acquired a gold mine or a dud during an auction. Either way, each abandoned storage unit is a sort of time capsule. Some have not been opened since they were initially abandoned 15 or 20 years ago.

The practice has even made its way to the air ways. On Nov. 9, Spike TV’s “Auction Hunters” will premier its first show of the new season based on the auctioning of storage units. More than 10,000 storage units are put up for auction each day throughout the country. The premise of all of the show’s half-hour episodes, which focus on different forms of auctioning, is for Clinton "Ton" Jones and Allen Haff to acquire abandoned treasure and sell it for profit. The first show puts them in the heart of L.A. In one storage unit Allen finds a rare 1910 copper cash register and Ton unearths a mint condition 1970's German H&K P7 pistol.

It is suspenseful to watch as treasure seekers open a storage unit and sort through all the antiques, books, jewelry, and more. Sometimes as audiences watch an auctioned-off storage unit being opened, they can get a bit overly excited.
“Everybody thinks it’s going to be their big break, and they overreact and over dramatize things,” Mr. Jones said in a recent New York Times article. “It makes me want to cut out my eye with a hot soldering iron.”

The two attended an auction in Queens, paying about $200 for five storage units. Apparently it is storage industry norm for the auctioneer to flash a glimpse of the pile of loot in the storage units before the auction has ended. The two did acquire a cookie jar shaped like a kitten on a beehive, tapered spice bottles, and a 1938 autograph album from Harlem middle school which the stars of the show decided to return to the school.

It is always exciting when antiques show up in storage units, as their value is estimated while the enraptured audience looks on. Cable shows about vintage objects are popping up like dandelions. One such show is “Antique Warriors,” which takes the viewer inside stores under construction in SoHo and Sturbridge, Mass.

What started the antique trend on TV was, of course, PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” which has been aired since 1997. The show’s executive producer, Marsha Bemko, said she looked forward to the new shows and hoped they would remind people to investigate their possessions before giving them up by selling them for a few bucks at a tag sale or leaving them for waste in an abandoned storage unit. “What is nice to see is this great appreciation and enthusiasm for old things,” Bemko said recently in the New York Times. “If we’ve helped spread that passion, great.”

From Self Storage Industry News

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Find Your Chipmunk

Indoor house cats are not very different from cats that have experienced the outdoors.  We think they don't have a clue as to what they are missing, but maybe they do. 

Would they like to be outside?  Of course.  Will they settle for their life inside?  As long as they don't know what they are missing, and they can experience the great outdoors at a window as if they are watching a cable channel for cats, they'll be fine.  Unfulfilled, but fine.

For a house cat anything seen through the window is worth watching. Sometimes its "The Leaves Moving On the Grass Show"  followed by "Birds At The Feeder". There are countless moments performed through the glass.  "Chipmunks On Parade" is one show they will actually follow from window to window around the house.  It is that good.

Actually, chasing a chipmunk outside the glass would be a far better experience for them,  but what they don't know... .  And, if they did know, well,  there would be no holding them back.

Same principles apply to people, too.  They watch life through a window, and from a distance, and don't wonder what it would be like to participate in that moment they are watching, because, in their world, they are.  Some of us finally do escape, and dash between the  legs of the guards to the outside, breathe deeply, and do the "Happy Dance" on the front lawn.  Embarrassing to watch, but incredible to do.  What drives us to that break-free-moment is different with each of us, but so worth it.

Think about making a break from your routine.  You can always return, but each time you make a break, it will be for a bit longer, and  enjoyed more.  How this will effect your daily routine, your relationships, your job, your family is any ones guess, but I am sure it will all be positive.

Start small.  The next time you are driving back from Shaw's head down 131 to I-84, get on the interstate, and head south for four exits, get off the interstate and then find your way back home by the back roads. You will get home, but the sights, the scenery, the experience you will will have had along the way will be a hundred times better than the routine trip to market.  It's a small escape, and except in time, and a bit of gas, it cost you nothing, but will worth far more than you can imagine.  Each day, take a little step outside of your routine, outside the glass.  Go, find your chipmunk.

Selectman's Meeting Minutes Now Available

The Selectman's Meeting minutes from July through October have just been made available to the public.  Links to the minutes are posted in the margin to the right.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Farm stand in Warren, MA   (c) W.Hersee

A Saturday Morning Thought Bubble

Just because they say they met, and they put thought into a project doesn't mean that the right people met at the same time, and the right thoughts were thunk.

The issue is not about the number of accidents a place had in the past.  Never was.  The issue is that a place was already compromised to its efficacy, and could have been improved so that damage to personal property, and town property would be minimized, and that the road could be used as a road, and that sidewalks could be used as sidewalks, not an extension of the road.   The right people were not at the right meetings to share the right thoughts, and make the right plan.

No amount of past meeting minutes, or drawings of intersections, will ever correct that.  All they do is confirm that the plan could have been vastly improved.  Instead, we settled.

The entire matter is spilt milk now.  Next time I hope we'll hold a bit tighter to the glass.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

All Aboard!

From the Worcester Telegram
October 12, 2010

Administrator told to be in by 9 a.m.
STURBRIDGE — While he doesn’t punch a time clock, Town Administrator Shaun A. Suhoski is expected to be at his desk at 9 a.m.

Selectman Mary Blanchard said she’s heard what amounts to complaints from residents who’ve attempted to visit the town administrator only to find he wasn’t in. She termed the issue a serious matter and said she wanted Mr. Suhoski in the office at 8 a.m., when Town Hall opens.

But other board members said the previous administrator wasn’t held to such a rigid standard and agreed that 9 a.m. is a reasonable compromise. Selectmen were working to set goals for the administrator when the matter came up and dominated about a half hour with discussions.

Thomas R. Creamer, chairman of the board, said he’d heard similar comments and saw the time restriction as a “condition of employment” rather than a goal, but believes that time frames don’t determine how productive a person might be.

Mary Dowling said she didn’t want to set up a situation in which Mr. Suhoski might think he didn’t have to be in until 9 a.m. because there might be days when he needs to be in earlier.

“Nine is what we’re going to aim for,” she said.

Mr. Suhoski said he was sorry the matter took up so much time. He said that over the summer, when he did not have to drop off his children at school before his hour-long commute from Gardner, he did become lax and usually arrived at work by 10 a.m. and left in the early evening. His time sheets, he said, show he most always works more than 40 hours per week.
— Kim Ring

OK, I get it, based on the article above, we're all being taken for a ride on the Silly Train to Morontown.  That is the only explanation  I can come up with to justify why the subject in the article should ever come up.  Secondly, why would the subject ever make it to the newspaper?  Someone must think we all overdosed on Stupid Pills, and we'll accept most any kind of behavior here in town.

Now, bear with me, I have no clue as to what happens behind closed doors when a new job is explained to folks when they are hired, or what goes into their contracts.   I am on this damn train with the rest of you, and someone else is driving it.  One would think, better yet, one would know, that basic things like what days to show up at work, and what time to show up, and how to  long each work day was would be explained, and those things would also be written down in something like, oh , I don't know, like a contract.  Things like that happen in the beginning along with the directions on where to park their car.

The Town Administrator is not at his desk when the town hall opens for business each day?

Excuse me?

And, how long has this been going on?

One Select person is quoted as saying, " Nine is what we’re going to aim for" in regards to the time they expect the Town Administrator to be at work.

"...we're going to aim  for"?

Now, here comes the common sense.

If you agree that the new hire can come in late because they need to drop off their kids at school before they get to work, then so be it, you agreed, and hired them under that stipulation.  However, if the school bus duties were not used in the summer, and they still took their time coming to work, then we have a problem.  And, please, don't even mention an "hour long commute" again.  It's a simple fix.  Move closer, or leave earlier.  Or, avoid that entire issue, and apply only to jobs with a shorter commute.  Simple.

Oh, another thing, you don't "aim for" anything that is a condition of employment, you say it, and the expectation is set.

Coming to work as a Town administrator at 10:00 in the morning?  And, he stated, he leaves early in the evening?  Well, duh, 6:00 PM is early in the evening, and that is eight hours for the day, not counting lunch. 

Thank goodness the rocket scientist isn't the one driving this train.

Wait a minute, I think he is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

All Around Us There Are Lessons To Be Learned

Freedom of Speech
Norman Rockwell © 1943
After people vocalized their displeasure with the Registry of Motor Vehicles move to an inconvenient, and unsafe location on the Mass Pike, it is finally back home again in Southbridge on LaRochelle Way.  A much safer, and more convenient place.

Only took a year of negotiations.  RMV Registrar Rachel Kaprielian stated repeatedly that the Mass Pike site was safe.

And, her job is safety.  Cripes.

Well, the good news is that the RMV is now located in a place that has plenty of parking, and is convenient to all.  At the former Senior Center in the old Train Station, the RMV is now full service, and will also handle road tests at the site.  The road tests were previously held in Sturbridge during that Limbo period when the RMV was on the Pike.

This whole episode in Central Mass politics shows just what can be done to correct a wrong when people are loud enough, and persistent enough.  The key to their success?  The people refused to give up. They refused to accept something that was so obviously flawed.  They saw that those in the know should have known better, and refused to give in.  Those in charge repeatedly stated the original move was due to state budget woes, but their action was so severe, and so poorly thought out, that one would have a very hard time ever believing that that was really the reason.

Well, that is all old news, and the new, good news is that all those voices that  rose up together in a chorus of defiance, and demanded action, were finally heard.

Can I get an "Amen"?

A little further northwest of Southbridge in Brimfield there are some voices rising up as well.  The plan to put ten wind turbines with 250 foot towers with 250 foot blades on top of West Mountain in Brimfield has pulled the towns pigtails enough to get a major reaction from the people.  Selectmen took a trip to Maine to check out another First Wind wind farm, and some were not too impressed by the noise the turbines made, or the "flicker effect" thrown over the country side.  At a recent meeting in Brimfield attended by 250 people, the  Board of Selectmen listened to the people, and voted unanimously not to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the town and First Wind.  The memo was  non-committal, and would have provided the town with $30,000 from First Wind for further research into the noise and other effects that were of a concern to the town.  None the less, they said "No thank you".

What's next?  No one has a clue, but the town has spoken.  The people have spoken.  Maybe First Wind will submit different plans.

So, here is todays lesson.  The united, consistent voice of the people will be heard eventually.  Don't ever forget that.  If enough people feel the same way about an issue, then it can happen.  Backing off, and lowering the volume of those voices will almost always insure that the opposite will occur.

When we hear of issues in town that cause concern, whether they be sidewalks, sewers, or intersections, if there are no united, consistent voices expressing concern, or need for change, then the other side has been handed a ticket for a free ride.

Take this lesson to heart.  It will come in handy in so many different ways in the future if you learn it well now.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Can Hear The Jeopardy Theme Playing Now

There are now ten sewer options currently before the Board of Selectmen for old Route 15.  The options were presented by Dave Prickett of Tighe & Bond last Monday night. Which one the town will pursue?  Well, which ever one they choose, it will be very telling.

From a low cost of $5 Million dollars that would include the Jellystone Park Campground, but not the retirement community, to a higher cost of $13 million for a longer sewer line to serve more residents that would also reduce the overall cost to individuals, and to an option with a much higher cost of $26 million that would include a satellite treatment facility.  This option would give the highest waste treatment to the area according to Tighe & Bond.  There are seven other sewer options in between the low end of $5 million and the high of $26 million.

The choice will be based on a lot more than just cost.  The choice will be based no only on where the current folks on the Board  see the town in 10 years, but where they want the town to be as well.  If built too restrictive, and small, the system would not be able to support enough growth to make it all worthwhile.  Build it too big, and it will accommodate a lot of growth, but do we want to grow too big?

The is a the basic "Goldilocks Conundrum".  The GC, as we like to call it here at TOLIS , since we made it up, is figuring out which option is "just right".

Hmmm.  Bring on that theme music!

Jeopardy! theme sound clip

I really like to watch these thing play out. How they are decided upon, and the debate leading up to that eventual decision are very telling. They not only tell us the direction the town would like to take, but where some folks would like to take the town.  That can be like winning an Oscar for for some people if they  happen to decide on the same direction  the majority of people in town would like to go, or it can be their political undoing.

It's like some rural reality TV show playing out on Selectmen meetings broadcast on cable TV, and in letters to the editor.

Ya gotta love it.

Something as simple as how involved the sewer system should be on old Route 15 can reveal so much about those making the decision.

Now, if the first option is decided on then the road stays essentially as it is.  A few more businesses. that's about it. A lot of money, a lot of work with very little return, but they have to throw it out there.

The,  second option, I listed above, is better,  but still restrictive as to how much growth will be allowed.

The third is very good, but do we want to open ourselves up to that much more growth.  On I-84?

Hell yes.  Maybe we don't need a mega project, but we definitely need one that will allow for future growth.

For 45 years that goldmine of a road has essentially been ignored by the town.  Any other town in the nation would have capitalized on a major highway interstate rolling though it decades ago.  To think we have TWO of them intersecting right in the middle of town, and with the exception of a few roadsigns long covered by tree growth, we have done little to snatch that traffic off the highway, and lead them into our  businesses.  More businesses on Route 15, off I-84, would not only be a convenient location for people with a destination in mind, such as a sports complex, but would be a great place for businesses that would serve travelers as well.

The area is out of the center of town, and, essentially, in the boonies, so the traffic impact would not be felt up near the common, but what an impact the numbers would have on those businesses built along Route 15.

Cha-ching!  Can you say, "Revenue stream"?  Actually, more like a river if done right.

I will be watching this reality show closely as most of you will, too.  Let us hope that our elected representatives will listen to us, weigh our concerns, get back to us with answers if they don't have any, and put our opinions on the front burner.  If we need more information to make a good decision, then it is their job to teach us.  Just don't go it alone.  Representatives do just that, represent, they don't fly solo.

Soloist still need help from the ground.

To read the article on the subject in the  Tantasqua Town Common click here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tell Me Again

Zen And The Art Of Local Politics

Sometimes I feel a need to address some of the comments left after some of posts, but I refrain, and let them grow on their own.  It works well.  Then there are times when I am drawn to respond to a general feeling I get from those comments.

Today is one of those times.

Seems that there is a general sense of frustration going around, and as with most symptoms, it can only get worse  before it ever gets better.

With most towns, there is always a certain amount of frustration that is around.  When there are a variety of opinions, and one of them is the one that wins out over the others, there will always be those that are frustrated to a point.  Real, deep frustration comes from this scenario happening over and over again.

A lot like the Red Sox felt for eighty six years.

It's that real, deep frustration that  I am feeling here in town from the comments that are being left.

I know the feeling.  I can get frustrated, too. I can get frustrated about local things, job things, family things, national things.  A  lot of things can frustrate me, but, they don't.  Not much, and those things that do, I have learned to deal with for the most part.  Sometimes effectively, sometimes I could have done better.

Now, I am not some "better than thou" guy.  Far from it.  I've just learned, over time,  that some things I have the power to change, and other things I don't have the power to change.  Sort of like a little Serenity Prayer playing in the background to make things clearer for me.  You know the one...

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

It's that "wisdom to know the difference" part that took me some time to get right.

Now, I don't mean to get all spiritual on you.  Not at all.  It's not only a prayer, but secular sage advise as well.  Whatever team you are playing for, the words mean the same.

The ability of being able to change something is not only based on where your head is at, but on who you are, if you wield any power, if you are respected, or if you just intimidate people.  Both work, it's just one is a better way than the other.  Now, depending on where you stand in the scheme of things will depend on how much you can influence change.

So, for those out there that are frustrated by events, it's OK, just redirect the energy spent on being frustrated elsewhere.  Maybe towards something that will evoke change.

Start small.  Attend a meeting of a board, or committee.  Listen.  Maybe the next time say something.  Speak your mind.  You will feel something, and it won't be frustration.  It will be accomplishment.  Frustration, in a different way, will definitely come, but you now know how to get over it, and to change it.

Redirect the energy.  

Be Zen like. Moving on does not mean giving up.

Think on it, then see what happens.