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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Always Is


There, I said it.  I said the word that can make grownups shudder.  I wonder why?  Is it because making a resolution to change something in our lives is relatively painless, but implementing the resolution is a whole other story?

I imagine so, but we are all different and we all have our reasons for wanting to make a change, but may not have the right reasons, or determination to succeed.

First of all, if there is something you want to change, then say it to yourself.  Say, "I will stop smoking on the 31st of December".  Then plan how you will do it.  Nicotine patches?  Lozenges?  Spray?  Sheer will power?  You need a plan.  You can't just stop.  Chances of you succeeding aren't good without a plan.

Once you have a plan in place, then implement it on the date, and time you have chosen, start your plan, and stick to your plan knowing there will be some bumpy times along the way.  There has to be a bit of flack to go through in order to get to the other side.

Then go through each day knowing you are one more day removed from where you were when you decided to change.  Don't look any more forward than the the next day.

If you succeed, then the time was right.  If you don't succeed, don't beat yourself up.  The time just wasn't right, nothing more.  Some additional preparation is needed to get your head in the right spot to succeed.

First thing you need is the desire to change.  If you have the definite desire to change, then you are more than half way there.  If you aren't sure, or think that it might be nice not to have a two pack of Twinkies a day habit, then it ain't going to work.

You have to want it.  I know, sounds trite, and so used, but it is true.  You have to want to change, otherwise you won't.

Again, simple.

If you decide you want it, and have a plan in place, with a date to start, then when that time comes, just begin.  No big goodbyes to something you no longer want in your life, no trips down memory lane, just begin.  And the next day, wake up, and continue.

This system works with everything.  A couple of years ago I successfully stopped smoking.  Never tried before, except for a few hours one time.  I never really wanted to. It was too familiar.  Too comforting.  Too much a part of me, and my behavior, that I didn't know how I would react without it in my life, so I continued to smoke.  I continued to smoke until one day in mid autumn I said to myself that it was now time to quit.  Nothing precipitated the statement; it was just something I no longer needed.

That revelation came out of the blue, as did the impetus to set a date.  I naturally chose December 31st, and when that time came, I began.

I haven't smoked since.

Of course, I have suffered "resolution fail" as well.  Far too many times, but that one success makes up for the many failures.

I used the 2 mg nicotine lozenges, and broke them into 1/8's, and took a piece when I felt a craving.  The amount I would take fell after a day or two, and then fell again a few days later, and after a week or so was down to only a very few of those tiny pieces a day.  I had one moment when I spoke loudly, and that was the only side effect I had to beating the addiction.

Do I miss it?  No.  Not really.  I like the money in pocket, the breath in my body.  I could not have done it at any other time.  The time had to be right.  The time had to be excuse free.  I no longer needed a crutch to function in everyday life when I quit, and that made it easier to decide to go for it.

That is how I did it, and I am passing on my experience to you.  It could work for you as well.  The nicotine lozenges were a personal choice.  You choose what you need to do it, or go without.  Only you know what you will need.

Whatever you decide to change as you begin 2012, I wish you the best.  One thing is for sure, and you already know this, whatever you decide to change in your life for the better  will definitely be worth it.

Always is.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Common Goodness

The team I follow has their opening day tomorrow. Now, there are all sorts of other teams out there, each with their own lineup, opening days, and star players, but they all share the same basic principle, be good.

That's all the teams asks of it's members, just be good, and that guiding rule covers everything else.  Each team has their own policies, procedures and rules that all lead to the that common goal; they're all different, but it doesn't really matter.

It's like the National League, and the American League, they don't regularly play against each other, but when they do it 's more ecumenical than a rivalry.  Those times that it becomes a rivalry we're working on eliminating from the schedule.

And, it doesn't matter what name your team has; mine is named after the mans birthday we celebrate on the 25th of December, Jesus Christ.  Christmas naturally evolved from that name.  I am glad his name wasn't Billy Ray.  Wouldn't fit as well.

So, to all of you, and I do mean all of you, even those on other teams, I wish you all a Merry Christmas.  The one thing we all have is that common goodness, and that is always worth sharing no matter what time of the year.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big Brass Ones Are Festive This Time Of Year


The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

I received the above e-card today from National Grid.  It's obvious that the folks in public relations don't read the newspaper, or own a television.  The sentiment is nice.  Ironic, but nice.

Happy Holidays to you, as well.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Selectmen Respond To National Grid Incompetence

Greetings All, 

As previously committed, I offer the following update to efforts regarding the Department of Public Utilities investigation specific to National Grid's October storm response. 

Today, Selectman Priscilla Gimas and I, submitted a letter to representatives of the Department of Public Utilities representing our individual official analysis of National Grid's management of of its emergency response plan. This letter was based upon our own individual experiences and interactions during the power outage, as well as information received from various members of the Town's Incident Management Team and was conveyed in support of our efforts to address and rectify the shortcomings experienced as a result of failures associated with National Grid's executive management staff. The letter was separately addressed and sent to Mark D. Marini, Secretary - Department of Public Utilities, Ann G. Berwick, Chair - Department of Public Utilities and Jennifer M. Murphy, Hearing Officer - Department of Public Utilities, all of whom will play a role in the "adjudicatory phase" of the hearings. To be clear, the letter does not reflect any official collective position of the Board of Selectmen, but rather the individual official position of the two members signing it. The letter reads as follows:

On behalf of the Town of Sturbridge and its residents, the following official statement is offered to the Department of Public Utilities by Thomas R. Creamer (Chairman of the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen) and Selectman Priscilla C Gimas. We write to convey our deep sense of frustration and dissatisfaction with National Grid’s storm response management in the aftermath of the October Nor’easter. It is important to emphasize that the comments offered in this testimony are solely directed at National Grid’s executive management team and not the hardworking men and women in the field who labored significantly and diligently on behalf of those without power.
In reviewing the implementation of the emergency response plan initiated by National Grid, it is clear that their efforts were disorganized, disjointed, and lacking a level of credible coordination with local officials. Despite having a liaison from National Grid assigned to our Incident Management Center, there was a distinct failure on the part of National Grid’s executive management staff to properly prioritize their restoration efforts in a manner consistent with the Town’s emergency response protocols. As Town crews were clearing areas of concern prior to the arrival of National Grid field teams - in an effort to assure access for them - conflicting dispatch orders were generated via National Grid’s management team directing crews to areas inconsistent with local emergency response efforts. This coordination failure on the part of National Grid’s management team resulted in needlessly extended delays, as well as inconsistent and disjointed power restoration efforts that necessitated a speculative approach on the part of our Incident Management Team in its attempts to establish an organizational plan designed to address anticipated needs or long-term delays. Illustrating this rather starkly was the decision-making process as it related to the cancellation of schools.
With no credible information coming from National Grid or its information centers, our community was forced into a day-to-day decision-matrix in terms of school closings, which placed parents and children in an untenable situation, preventing them from making plans or arrangements to exit the area for more appropriate accommodations. So too, vulnerable members of our community, young and old, immunosuppressed or ill, were forced daily, and in some cased hourly, to evaluate their conditions and situation due to the absence of time-critical and credible information. Additionally, updates provided by our liaison as well as those received during joint conference calls, offered little in terms of reliable or useful information, thereby further inhibiting the release of definitive and dependable information to our residents. Equally, information received by residents via phone calls to National Grid customer service centers proved to be anything but trustworthy. These communications failures created unnecessary emotional stress and physical challenges for the entire community.
In addition, we contend that a significant lack of vegetation management undertaken by National Grid as well as the dependence upon outdated and poorly maintained infrastructure were, and will continue to be significant contributing factors in terms of the magnitude and duration of the October outage, as well as those one might experience in the near future. Despite National Grid’s contention to the contrary, we challenge their testimony provided during the public hearings held in Brookfield that they have not reduced their vegetation management program, nor would such have had any impact upon the outcome. To the contrary, we believe there has been a general lack of vegetation management in our community and that National Grid’s failure to properly address such resulted in a greater loss of community-wide power. Equally, National Grid’s call for residents with power to leave an outside light on so that they could determine who was still without power demonstrates an archaic approach in an age of abundantly sophisticated technology. In recognition of such, we formerly request the DPU to order the release of National Grid’s records in terms of all vegetation management efforts within the town of Sturbridge, as well as infrastructure preventative maintenance and upgrades specific to same within the next 60 days.
Additionally we call upon DPU to conduct an extensive review of National Grid’s Emergency Response Plan and to include review of same by emergency managers throughout the state to ensure that said plans are compatible with and complimentary to local emergency response plans, procedures, and priorities. Recognizing the significant financial burden the extended power outage had for residents in terms of lost perishable foods, added outside meal costs, hotel/motel stays, loss time at work, etc., we encourage DPU to levy appropriate and worthwhile fines upon National Grid and to ensure that said costs are not passed to the ratepayers.
Finally, we call upon DPU to support legislation that would reduce the impediments to the establishment of more municipally owned and operated power entities. It is our hope that the levying of fines and greater competition by way of municipal power companies are the surest way of establishing a more competitive and proactive customer service approach by National Grid.
Respectfully Submitted,
Thomas R. Creamer, Chairman
Priscilla C. Gimas, Selectman

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Season For Head And Heart

During this time of year, the holiday season, a spell is cast.  The thoughts each religion, and group, has regarding their celebrations has a way of steering them, molding their behavior, changing their outlook, and even the words they speak, for the better.  More sincere smiles, longer, and firmer handshakes, more conviction in wishes for a happy holiday, and a better new year, all are part of the wonderful spell that the darkest of months brings to us all.

For most, the seasons spell melts away into the January thaw, but each year, there are those of us that are captured by the spirit of well wishing, brotherhood, unity, and salvation that we decide to stay, and be that person throughout the year.  Sure beats the heck out being seasonally schizophrenic, and keeping our family guessing as to which person we'll be depending upon the solstice.

Believe me.

Yesterday I met a salesperson in one of the shops at Blackstone Valley that was not only helpful because she is a salesperson, she was also happy, and sincere about her helping because it is who she is.  At first I thought that she was just affected by the "spell", but the more I lingered as the sale was completed, the more I saw that it was her true person showing through, not the corporate "HoHoHo".  It nice to meet someone with this natural ability to make me feel good as I spent my money.  It was also good to know that there will be someone else that she will interact that may not be in the best of moods, or maybe in a bit of a holiday funk, and they will be in a better place after being with her for just a few minutes.

Their wallet may not be in a better place, but the head, and heart will be, and that is one of the many side effects of the season.

So, on that note, may your head and heart be touched this season enough to share that touch with another.

And, that is the spirit of all who celebrate this season, the giving.  It sneaks up on you, and before you know it, you are giving, and sharing, without really knowing it.

Keep it up; it's what keeps us going for the rest of the year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Laundry Day, And I Am Going To Wiggle A Couple Of Loads

Genetically I am a man, and that means that deep within my DNA are certain genes that define my male characteristics.  Some of those characteristics I hope I don't need to explain, but there are a few that some people, mostly female, feel that they are merely behavioral quirks, and not actual genetic characteristics.

There is a Gadget Gene.  I have one, most guys do, and some women have them, too.  Although primarily found in males, the Gadget Gene is found in any one that likes things go whir, light up, beep, and do things beyond what an ordinary device would do.

Last week, after we discussed it for a very long time, I went out to buy a new washer and dryer with Mary's blessings.  She paced nervously at work while I shopped, but she could have relaxed. I had done my research.  I had compared models on read the reviews of dozen of models, and manufacturers, and knew the things that these machines needed in order to perform: lots of buttons, little LED lights, digital displays, various test modes, beeps, and alarms.  This obvious information, along with my research, and the advise and recommendation of the salesman steered me towards the LG washer and dryer.

Normally, I would check out the Maytag, Whirlpool, or Kenmore, but repair history, and cost brought me to LG.  Now, you have to know where in the World of Laundry I am coming from.  I do all my own laundry.  I figure, my clothes, my job, so I have a stake in choosing the best machines.

It's probably some control thing.

The Laundry World we have lived in, since we bought our home in 2006, was not the best.  The washer and dryer came with the house, and had been installed in the mid 1980's.  I only know this because when the washer died a couple of years ago, and needed a new belt, the repairman we called was the very one that had installed it in the first floor half bathroom back when it was originally purchased.  He told me that he had to dismantle the washer to get it inside the bathroom, and to get it out, well, guess what.

The washer was a simple one.  It has a few dials.  One for the kind of cycle I wanted, one for the size of the load, and another for the temperature.


The dryer was in the basement on a concrete platform by the oil tank.  It had been "repaired" in the past because there was a regular light switch built into the front panel for on and off, and a dial for setting the time for a load.  We only used the timer, and every load lasted sixty minutes.

A lot has happened in World of Laundry since 1985.  The machines we bought this past week do everything except fold the clothes and put them away.

The first thing that grabs ones attention is the control panel on top of the washer.  Lots of choices, cycles, temperatures, and little lights.  The next thing one will notice through the  glass top is that the agitator is gone.  Now, like most of us you may have an agitator somewhere in your life, but you won't find one in a new washing machine.  When you first load the clothes, choose your cycles, temperature, and close the lid the you'd expect the machine to begin washing, right.  Nope, not yet.  These new HE (High Efficiency) machines need to sense the load first to determine the right amount of water needed to clean the clothes in the tub, and just when to release the fabric softener, and what kind of rinse to use at the end of the cycle.

The tub will then wiggle for a minute, or so, as it determines just what it's up against, and when all the data is gathered,  the machine calls for the proper amount of water to be delivered into the tub, and the cycle begins in earnest.

Wow.  This is so cool.  So many functions, so many choices.  So many little buttons and lights.  A true gadget.

But, wait.  There's more.  If the machine acts up an error code will display to diagnose the issue, and if there is still a problem, you simply call the 800 number, talk to the technician, and then hold your phone up to the on off switch.  The washer will then transmit diagnosis signals to the technician to assist with determine the problem.

Tell Mr. Spock they finally invented a Tri-corder for the laundry room.  The true final frontier.

The dryer is massive, and dries really well using far less electricity than the old dryer which almost needed it's own electrical feed from National Grid.  It uses Sensor Dry that determines the moisture level in the clothes, and constantly adjusts the time to dry.

It has lights, beeps, and plays a song at the end of the cycle like the washer does.

Well, this is all very interesting, but a gadget isn't a real gadget unless it performs, and so far these two machines perform really well, and do exactly what the cycle chosen says it will do.  Permanent Press delivers dried clothes completely wrinkle free.

Yep, gadgets are great, and so far I am having fun playing with them.  I'd like to share more about the new washer and dryer, but I have another load to wiggle.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sturbridge Veterans Honor Roll Fundraiser

Help to Build the Sturbridge Veterans' Honor Roll 
Purchase one or more engraved bricks at $100 each

This is a great way to honor a friend or loved one or
 to recognize your company or organization.  Not only
 will you be helpingto build the Veterans' Honor Roll,
 your brick will forever be a part of the Town's history.

An example of engraved bricks in other communities
that honor local veterans.

Make checks payable to Friends of Sturbridge 
Seniors and mail to:  Veterans' Honor Roll,
 P.O. Box 1, Fiskdale, MA 01518-0001.  
Please indicate "Honor Roll" on the outside 
of the envelop and in the memo section of the 
check.  All donations are tax deductible.

Submitted by Kathy Neal

Monday, December 5, 2011

Picking Up Where We Left Off

I've been thinking a lot this morning.  Why do associations, and friendships we make early in life seem to last the longest, and mean the most to us?  Other relationships we make over a lifetime may come, and go, but seldom is there the tightness, the emotional connect we share with those that we have known most of our lives.  Oh, there maybe some special people that enter our lives as we grow older that we may hold as closely, but not in the volumes there was when we were younger.

Did we just become too selective, or cautious as we matured?   Do we purposely keep a distance, and not allow ourselves to to bond like we once did on the playground because it is more awkward for adults when we don't have that playground to support us?

I know, too many questions for the morning.   You can defer the thinking on this one until the commute, in the meantime, humor me.

The other night  I attended an informal "mini-reunion" with some old friends from high school.  Some of these folks I have seen once, maybe twice since 1972, others a bit more, but not in decades.  I like this kind of get together.  I enjoyed hearing the voices,  and that long forgotten laughter again.

The chemical responses ones body goes through when old friendships are reignited confound the me.  There is a an overwhelming feeling of comfort, feeling safe, and happiness.  Sharing the night with Mary made it even better.  She was now able to understand some of what I shared with her, and that can be both good, and bad.

I know, not everyone has the same feelings when their past comes back for a visit, but I did, and as I said, I enjoyed it.

We accepted each other as we were the other night.  We accepted each other on how we arrived not so much to the place, but to that moment in time.  We are older, no longer competing with each other for our piece of the pie.  We have our pie, and we are eager to share it as we show photos of our kids, and grand kids on our phones.

This reunion was small, about thirty people, but it was not so much the number of people in the room, or the memories, it was knowing that we had each made it this far in life, and had arrived intact.  Some a bit bumped, and bruised more than others.  Some with more challenges than the next.  No one judged.  A smile, and a hug hello was all that was needed welcome one back to the fold.

Back "then" was such a long time ago, and offered only a chapter in the whole story of who we are, but it was the foundation of who we became.

One can always grow without a foundation, but with one, one is not only stronger, and able to stand up to the forces that confront us, it leads to having a bit more confidence in life.

I was fortunate to have the kind of foundation that friends helped to build.  I am who I am partly because of those early relationships.  How those young people, from forty years ago, responded to life was an example for those around to follow.  Those that did pay attention made a good choice.

So, in a strange way, these "mini-reunions", that happen later in life, are like stepping back and meeting ones younger self as you speak, and act just as you once did, without the need for any pretense.  It's always good thing to let the genie out of the bottle once in awhile.  Helps to center yourself, and sometimes some of us may need a bit of an  adjustment along the way.

Next year will be a big anniversary of our high school class, and you can be sure I will be there once again.  It's like a maintenance program, and I could always use an adjustment now and again.

Thanks to the other night I am good for a bit.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sunday Morning Muse

This place is the furthest thing from a political soap box.  It is a place of thoughts, opinions, and, most often, plain common sense.  I do like stand up on my soap box, and offer my thoughts on a particular subject.  Most often it is just venting, talking hear myself talk, writing to satisfy some inner need.

It's all part of the process.  The democratic process.  To voice opinion freely, and to occasionally offer some words of encouragement, humor, acknowledgment, and to annoy the bejeepers out of others.

Another part of that process is following the laws of the land, and voice an opinion when they should be changed, amended, or implemented.  That is just another part of the process.

So simple.

Now, another part of this whole thing is to record the process in action.  Written minutes are part of recording of the process.  Timely distribution of information comes with the recording of the minutes.  We've already been down that road this week, heard from all sides, and it has been written (almost Biblical sounding this morning), that this part of the process will change for the better.

While we wait to see if that prophecy holds true, we can appreciate the comments left in the previous posting this morning.  They are informative, filled with facts, and not a bit of speculation.

Where did this information come from?


Yep, meeting minutes, and the transcript of the videos of those meetings.  So often the minutes are but merely a hint of what actually occurred, as we have discovered in this video age, and the transcript fills in the blanks by displaying the demeanor, the emotions, and the rhythm of the moment.  Something that could not be shared unless you attended the meeting yourself until videotape was invented.

The minutes, and the transcripts of the Article 48 debacle are very telling.  The "paper trail" is enormous offering up information against the article.  Those that were originally supportive of it are now thinking again.  Why attach themselves to it?  This won't be good, and to remove themselves from the line of fire would be a good thing.

Meeting minutes are so important, and access to them is critical when they are fresh, and not eight months later.  No drafts, but actual minutes.  If you still think it is a non-issue just look at what has surfaced, and been accomplished this past week by having access to meeting minutes

Based on the information, Article 48 should not pass, but if by some remote chance it does, the minutes will still be invaluable;  they will offer up indisputable evidence in a law suit.

Oh, I don't know, maybe a nay vote on the December 5th may be cheaper than a lawsuit for the town.

This time it's common sense talking.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You Are Kidding Me, Right?

I'm so confused.  You just can't make these things up.

Now, it would be so much easier on this head of mine if I could see a pattern, a rationale, a simple reason, but it is beyond me.

Damn, I hate admitting that.

I'm sorry.  Did I say that out loud?  I've been muttering ever since I received a few emails from the Town of Sturbridge today.  The emails had Board of Selectmen meeting minutes attached to them.

Yesterday I posted about the long time we had to wait for meeting minutes to become available to the residents of Sturbridge.  I was flabbergasted when meeting minutes from June 27th were finally released.  I expected that it was an oversight, or there was a more legitimate reason for the extraordinary delay.  I expected some explanation, as usual, posted in the comment section, but I did not receive a comment, and now I know why.

Today I received more minutes from this months meetings held on the 14th and 4th.  Excellent.  Minutes from the same month the meeting was held.  Awesome.

The other minutes I received today were from October 1, June 6, 13, 20, and May 23rd.

Yes, May 23rd of 2011.  Six months ago.

But wait, it gets worse.  The last email with meeting minutes attached was the best by far.  The minutes were from a selectman's meeting on March 24, 2011.

Yes, eight months ago.  Eight months after the meeting, the minutes are being released to the public.

Now, I am done asking why.  I no longer need a reason, or excuse,  posted in the the comment section of this blog by selectpeople offering a rationale explanation.

There is no rational explanation when meeting minutes from a meeting held  twelve days ago are released within the same month as the meeting, and minutes from a meeting held eight months ago are casually sent out in the same batch.

I don't want an explanation.  I've been down this road before, and I nodded, accepted, and moved on after that explanation.  I trusted that explanation.

This is a simple thing to master, and for there to be an eight month delay in making minutes public it speaks of other more important issues with the board that this is only a symptom of.

No more excuses, and reasons for the simplest things.  I'm done with it.

The smallest details always reveal the most, and when the time is right, I have a ballot, and I know how to use it.

For March 24, 2011 Selectmen Meeting Minutes click here

96019 Visits

I began writing this blog in November 2007.  In July of 2008 I put one of those counters on the site to see how much traffic I get.  Seems it varies from day to day, and depending on the system I use to view the traffic.  Some posts get a lot more traffic than others.  Some barely move the meter.

Today, the little numbers at the bottom of the page say 96019.  That is the number of you that have stopped by and read my blathering since 2008.  I figure if I include the eight months without a counter the number just may be over 100,000.

No, I'm not a YouTube viral sensation that records 90000 hits an hour.  That would be the best.  No, I'm far from it.   I may not be a national writing marvel, or internet sensation, but I am the appreciative sort, and for those 96019 visits people have made it to, thank you, thank you very much.

Now, let's see if we can do those 96019 visits in thirty days.  That would be really neat.

Go ahead, surprise me.  :-)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Do Meeting Minutes Take Months To Share?

Of course, small town America runs a bit slower than big cities, it's just the nature of the village beast.

Now, there is small town slow, and then there is "why bother?" slow.

Today, I got a "why bother".

I subscribe to the selectmen  meeting minutes, among other notifications,  through the towns website.  I often get notifications of meetings, meeting time changes, agendas, and public announcements.  A very handy thing to have. I scan the emails as they arrive.  Some times I get mass emails with attachments.  Most of those attachments are meeting minutes.  A month of meeting minutes arriving by separate emails is not unusual, and the usually come late.  One to two months late, and that is frustrating, and aggravating to say the least.

This is how I figure it.  The meeting minutes are not only a record of what transpired during the meeting, who attended, who spoke, who said what, what business was settled, and what business was continued, but it is also a report card.  It shows us just how the meeting went, and how those we elected to office handled the issues, and handled themselves.  If one is satisfied on how they have performed, and handled the topics, and issues before them, one would think that a public record of that would be a great thing to have out there ASAP.

Nope.  Not here.  Not in Sturbridge.  It is almost like the longer they delay the release of the minutes, the more of us will forget what transpired at the meeting.

Naw.  That can't be it.  Too petty.

Today I received Selectman's meeting minutes in several emails.  The most recent meeting minutes were from November 18th.  Now, this was only eleven days ago, and although not the most timely meeting minutes, anything delivered in the same month is golden.

The next set were from November 7th, again, a good thing.  The other two sets are from October 17 (now we're pushing it a bit in the tardy column), and August 31st.

August 31st.  Beyond late.  Ancient history late.  Previous generation late.  No good to me late.

And, again, "why bother"?

I did receive another email with selectman meeting minutes attached.  That meeting was held five months ago on June 27th.


I know there is a good reason.  I know this because I will be told there is a good reason in the comment section of this post after I post it.  I've been told this before, and I was told it was for a good reason.

Let's see.

The mechanics of recording minutes are pretty standard, and putting them in some readable form for distribution is also standard.  Getting the minutes reviewed, and approved, should happen fairly quickly as well.


Unless there is a whole bunch of stuff one doesn't want in the minutes, and they have to be tailored for distribution.  It's called editing, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Making the moment sound better than it was is an art.  I've been there.  It happens, but it doesn't happen to take five months.

Next April, when we get this Decembers meeting minutes, I would be thrilled to read that something was being done with the system in order to hasten the distribution of the minutes.

Gives me another great reason to wish for Spring.

To read the Selectman's Meeting Minutes from June 27th, click here.

To subscribe to informational emails from the Town of Sturbridge, click here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The Truth Behind Article 48" by Carol Childress

The following letter was submitted, for posting, by Sturbridge resident, Carol Childress.  At the end of her letter, Carol has also supplied documentation, a definite "Paper Trail",  that she feels supports her position.--ed.

Dear Fellow Sturbridge Residents and Taxpayers, 
I'm writing to all of you because there is an important issue that has once again stirred me to speak out, and with urgency, I am asking that taxpayers please attend the December 5th Special Town Meeting to vote NO on Warrant Article 48. 
The truth behind Article 48 is that it asks voters to allow the town to convert one of its current conservation parcels, the Shepard parcel, into $2,500,000 athletic fields. On its face, you will find that Article 48 does not mention any costs involved in the conversion or the athletic fields, or why the conversion is even necessary; rather, its ambiguous content asks voters to allow the town to go to the legislature and make a "deed correction" to a 6-year old deed, which if approved, will insert active recreation as an “intended use” for the property when it was purchased in 2004 with Community Preservation Act funds. 
Voters who attended the 2004 Town Meeting when this parcel was purchased can attest to the fact that athletic fields were never mentioned as an intended use; two original members of the Community Preservation Committee have attested that athletic fields was not an intended use; and in fact, Article 48 completely disrespects and disregards that 138/5 supermajority vote rendered in favor of purchasing the property for conservation purposes in 2004. 
To make matters worse, voters were asked for and appropriated funds in 2009 to pay for design services for these fields; however, there is no language in that 2009 warrant article informing voters that the Shepard parcel had actually been purchased 5 years earlier for conservation purposes and that recreation fields are not a permitted use on the property. My research has shown that little (if any) due diligence was exercised on both the Shepard and Town Barn parcels prior to asking voters for design money in 2009. And yet, there isn’t a prudent developer out there today who purchases land, much less spends money on design, without first knowing where the rare species are located and whether it will impact their development (according to the Conservation Commission, the Shepard parcel is 2/3rds covered with Priority and Estimated Habitat for Rare Species.) Just this issue alone should cause town officials to pause and think about the potential waste of that 2009 appropriation if the fields must be redesigned; there’s also the possibility that the project will not be permitted at all. 
I and many others, including legal professionals, have reviewed the 2004 Selectmen’s Executive Session Meeting Minutes; Community Preservation Committee (CPC) Meeting Minutes and Agenda discussion; the 2004 Finance Committee Warrant Article in comparison to the Selectmen’s Substitute Motion and the vote taken in 2004; the Shepard deed; and the 2004 Report of the CPC in the 2005 Town Meeting Warrant. The only place active recreation is mentioned is in the 2004 Selectmen’s Executive Session Meeting Minutes when “uses” for the property are discussed, and it is stated, “not recreation fields.” Those minutes served to inform the reasoning behind the language inserted into the Selectmen’s 2004 Substitute Motion, and all other official town documents clearly point to passive uses for the property, such as hiking, non-motorized biking, fishing, and hunting.  
Residents should also be aware of one of the most eye-opening issues discovered earlier this year, which is that the town used vague Warrant Articles when it purchased all the so-called "conservation" parcels with taxpayer dollars through the 3% Community Preservation Act (CPA) surcharge on our tax bills. Therefore, this conversion of the Shepard parcel represents one of four parcels that can potentially be converted to other uses, or they may now include uses that are not what voters may expect based on presentations at Town Meetings. As one who attended and voted at all the Town Meetings when these parcels were purchased, I took those Warrant Articles at face value; I trusted and believed our town officials that these properties would be used for conservation purposes; however, in reality, some properties seem to be protected and some definitely are not. I say some "seem to be protected" because three of them, including the Shepard parcel, are under the so-called “protection” of the Conservation Commission; yet they made the sole decision to “release” the Shepard parcel for athletic fields - without voter input or agreement. Such a decision is completely contrary to voter's rights under the Article 97 Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth, and it is also completely contrary to the Conservation Commission Act under MA General Laws Chapter 40, Section 8C, which allows passive uses only. 
I have also discovered that the town is in violation of the Community Preservation Act statute, as all the properties purchased using the 3% surcharge and matching state CPA funds are required by law to have permanent Conservation Restrictions (CR) on them - but none of them do - in fact, the town has skipped that entire part of the process; so technically, these property transactions are not complete. Not until I raised this issue in April 2011 did town officials make any real attempt to complete these transactions; however, they are seeking to include active recreation in at least one of the CRs, thus indicating that future conversions on other parcels could be imminent. 
The last cost estimates I heard at a Selectmen’s meeting to build these athletic fields currently tips at $6,000,000. The fields are extravagant, regulation-sized, tournament-type fields at two locations: the Shepard conservation parcel, which is estimated to cost $2,500,000; and the new Town Barn fields are estimated to cost $3,500,000. There have been no public forums or hearings so residents can learn more and become informed instead of being asked on-the-spot at 2012 Town Meeting to pay for these fields. 
Not the least bit disturbing is that the town actually has a golden opportunity to complete the Conservation Restriction on the Shepard parcel right now. This is an opportunity that the Conservation Commission has chosen to ignore; but in fact, it is not solely their decision because they are not the “owners” of the parcel – the town and its residents are the owners, and voters should have an opportunity to weigh in on this opportunity. The Department of Fish & Game informed me on November 3rd that it's "highly likely" they would hold a Conservation Restriction on the Shepard Parcel, plus they would work with their Office of Fishing and Boating Access to build a kayak launch ramp and parking lot – with all construction and engineering costs to be paid by the state. These uses are in keeping with the property’s current legal uses and zoning in that district, while strongly complementing current eco-tourism efforts underway by the Trails Master Plan Committee. 
Over the last five years, the town of Sturbridge has accumulated $50,000,000 in long-term debt that has increased our property taxes by 28%. Water and sewer rates have risen sharply; and it was decided on November 14th that the town will borrow another $1,800,000 to cover damages associated with the October snowstorm. The economy is not improving as everyone would hope and many Sturbridge taxpayers are already struggling to make ends meet.
We are the ones who will foot the bill for these $6,000,000 fields (this estimate doesn’t include the two additional maintenance and recreation personnel per the Master Plan, or other costs associated with building these fields), and we have every right to expect a public forum and other information prior to being asked on-the-spot at the 2012 Town Meeting to pay for these. 
I urge you all, please come to town meeting on December 5th and let your voice be heard: vote NO on Article 48. Let's send the following message: we will not allow the town to disrespect and negate the taxpayer’s supermajority votes of 2004; we will not allow the town to set a precedent by converting one or more of our conservation parcels; and we will not allow the additional spending of millions of taxpayer dollars without prior public input at public forums and hearings. 
Carol Childress 

Note:  the following are links to supporting documentation.--ed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Doing Our Part On Small Business Saturday Weekend

Small Business Saturday was yesterday.  It is the day that American Express started last year to promote shopping locally through their OPEN program for small business owners.

A super sized company with a great idea that affects the local merchant in a good way.  A rare thing this is.  American Express may have started out promoting its OPEN small business unit, but what has happened has been the promotion of all small businesses.

More often than not we head for the plaza, or the mall to "cluster shop".  Cluster shopping is attacking ones list by shopping in places that offer most everything on the list.  Large stores like Target, Walmart, Macy's, Sears and Kohls are places where ones list can be completely crossed off in a short amount of time.  Small Business Saturday is designed to introduce people to the small local businesses that carry many of the things on your list, but not everything.  For that you will have to visit a few places.  Most of the time, when you are only looking for that one particular thing, a local, non-national store will have what you are looking for.

Supporting small, local businesses keeps our money local, and not in a bank in Bentonville, Arkansas.

We try to do a lot of our regular shopping locally.  For those things that aren't offered up the street, we do stray to a large chain as much as we want to support the small businessperson.  Somethings just can't be had at the local business level, but for those things that are, we're all over them.

We have been looking for a new washer and dryer for sometime.  Each time we are in Home Depot, or Sears,  we look over what is offered, and remember the prices.  We don't intend to buy a big ticket item there, but will take the information with us, and shop locally.  I did that on Friday at Whitco in Spencer, and yesterday Mary and I went over there again to check out my choices.

She was pleased.  (whew)

Sometimes a local business can't compete with Sears for big ticket items like a snow blower.  The local dealer may be able to offer a snow blower for less than what it usually sells for if offered on sale, but you can be sure that the big store will offer it for far less.

What does one do?  $1250.00 vs. $825.00 for similar machines.  As supportive of local business as I am, the answer is clear, I will go with the significantly lower price, provided the quality is similar.  Last month, I did just that, and went to Sears and bought a Craftsman snow blower on sale.  This time the national guy won my business.

Keep in mind, I'm a yankee, frugal by nature, and although supportive as all get out for the local guy, I am a bit more supportive for the little guys in my wallet, like Franklin, and Jackson.

Yesterday, after leaving Spencer we planned on driving up to Gardner, Mass, to check out the furniture stores in "Chair City".  Gardener, long known for furniture manufacturing, sells a lot of furniture as well.  This would be my first time shopping in Gardner.

We had been to all the local shops, Charlton furniture, Sturbridge Furniture each time it opened and "closed forever" over the past couple of years.  Rotmans in Worcester, Bernie and Phyl's,  Bob's, and Jordans Furniture we hit last, and sometimes several times, but we still did not find what we were looking for.

So, off to Gardner, an hour north.  The drive was nice, and the first store, Rome's, was easy to find.  Family owned since 1945, our salesman, Bob, was very helpful, answered our questions, and stayed in the background as we looked for the items that had been eluding us forever.

First up was a living room chair, a Queen Ann type, that slightly reclined.  Most that we had seen were ugly, too big, and offered in only one color.  This store had several, good looking ones that came in any fabric or color we wanted.  Choice, quality, non-ugly furniture, and it was a family owned small business!  We found one, put it on the list, and then went looking for an upholstered chair for a bedroom.  Not far away, and after several months of looking, we found not one, but two!

We were striking gold.  The variety, amount of inventory, and choices this store gave were beyond what is offered in Worcester, Shrewsbury, or Natick.  Amazing for a small business.  The big ticket item was a dining room set.  Rotmans had mostly, if not all veneer top tables, and although they are pretty to look at, they aren't meant for everyday use, and could be easily damaged.  The solid wood tables were priced beyond reason, and the store offered little choice.  Same at Jordans, and Bernie and Phyl's.  This store, Rome Furniture Center,  offered many sets, and although we found two excellent ones, the price was a bit beyond our budget.  The salesman then referred us to another store in town, The Factory Coop, their sister store around the corner.

At the Factory Coop we found a solid wood set made by Amish furniture makers in Ohio, and the price was half of that offered by the large stores.


We spoke to the salesman, Kevin, and the stores manager for a long time, and they assured us that our preferences for color, wood, and style would be adhered to, and they went to extraordinary lengths in writing up the order.

So, this weekend we supported the small business person very well.  Our choices were better, and our prices were much better.  Quality, and service were just as good, if not better than the big boys.  All in all, we were very pleased, and I strongly recommend Gardner to anyone looking for furniture to check there first, and Spencer if you are looking for appliances.

Word of mouth can either grow a business, or ruin it, especially small businesses.  When all things are good, and separating ones self from ones money isn't painful, and filled with remorse, then the word of mouth can only be good.

One more thing.  We worked up an appetite  shopping most of the day, and were talking amongst ourselves about looking a place for lunch after we closed the furniture deal on the table and chairs.  The salesman overheard us, got up and walked across the office and returned with a brochure for a local restaurant in Westminster, The Old Mill.  Each of the people in the office said it was great, and run buy the same family that started it in 1946 just after WWII.

We went to the restaurant, and the ambiance with the brook running around the building from the mill pond right outside its front door, to the excellent food within were well worth the trip.  Put The Old Mill in with those other recommendations.  You will not be disappointed.

Local small business supporting local small business, and both reaping the benefits, and both very successful.

It works for the consumer as well.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Better Deal At Dawn

We had a hard frost last night, and this morning the evidence was everywhere.  The blades of grass, the shrubs, and the yet to fall leaves on the Rose of Sharon all showed the thick, white frost that had settled on us overnight.  After I awoke this morning, with  cup of coffee in hand, I watched the world awaken through the kitchen window .   The suns rays played with the frost crystals on the trees, and Mary readied herself for the day near me at the counter.  

I watched as dawn turned into day.

That little bit of time in front of the kitchen window was far more pensive, and sedentary than rushing out blindly hours earlier to wait in line at Target in order to save 30-60% on a Blu-Ray player.  It was also more rewarding.  I saw things this morning that others may not have.

No, I didn't save 80% on an electronic book reader, or 52 inch LCD TV.  No, I did not save any money at all, but  I am a lot richer now than I was before getting out of bed this morning.

Starting off ones day a bit wealthier than the previous day is a great goal.  Well worth the effort, and if you do it right, it doesn't cost a thing.

And, that's the whole point.  This morning I did it right.

                "When the Frost is on the Punkin"

James Whitcomb Riley. 1853–1916

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock, 
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock, 
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens, 
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence; 
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,         5
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest, 
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock, 
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock. 
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere 
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—  10
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees, 
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees; 
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze 
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days 
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—  15
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock. 
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn, 
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn; 
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still 
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;  20
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed; 
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!— 
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock, 
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock. 
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps  25
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps; 
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through 
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!... 
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be 
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—  30
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock— 
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Reasons For The Day

I think it is a good idea to have one day every twelve months designated for giving thanks.  Government initiated, or not, we need it.  Of course, we need to give thanks whenever the moment calls for them to be given, but a national day of thanking is one way of ensuring that it doesn't become something taken for granted.  As humans we have a tendency of taking things for granted, and that leads to them becoming less important, and eventually ignored.  Knowing that about our selves is why we appoint special days to somethings.  Another reason is we like celebrations.

© 2011 W.J. Hersee
When we think about the circumstances in our life, and thank the powers, and people that be for the good ones, it is also acknowledging the things that aren't the best, and we may even give thanks that they aren't worse than they are.  When we do that, we acknowledge the need for change as well.

Making changes can only only be done when we acknowledge what needs to be changed.  It's that simple.

So, a day for giving thanks accomplishes two things.  One, the intended purpose of giving thanks, and another, more stealth like purpose, the acknowledgement of things that we would like to change.

Anytime we can focus on the good in our lives, acknowledge them, and the need to improve the things that aren't so good, it is a great thing, no matter the day, or the reason.  Having a special day is just a way of getting the majority of us all on the same page at the same time for all the right reasons.

And, for that, I am thankful.