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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting My Yankee On

It is confirmed:  sometimes you actually can't get there from here.

Late Sunday afternoon, after Irene had made her appearance, I headed out to work in Boston. Usually, it is a 5-6 minute drive from Route 148 to the Pike.  Sunday was a bit different.  Route 20 was flooded in front of Yankee Peddler near Yankee Candle. This was the scene of the road being washed out a few years ago during a wicked fall storm that flooded a lot of our town.  The culvert under the street is not wide enough to handle a swollen stream from a severe storm, so it comes up onto the road and into Yankee Peddler.  A digital sign board warned me of what was to come.  I grabbed a coffee at Dunkin's, and I headed to Arnold Road with the plan to take a right on Cooper and shoot over to Cedar Street.  Right before I got to Cooper Road I shook my head and said something like, "You dolt, Wally.  There is always water seeping onto Cooper Road".  Sure enough Cooper road had a saw horse in the road with a sign proclaiming the road was closed.

(sigh)

Back to Route 20, and right turn to Holland Road.  My Plan was to turn left onto Holland Road, and go up Douty Road to Stallion Hill Road and back down to Route 20.  Douty is elevated, shouldn't have any flooding there.

I drove to Douty, and there in the middle of the road was another sign stating the same message as the last one.  I didn't think about downed trees blocking the road.

I was running out of local route options to get to the turnpike.  I had one more viable route:  Finlay Road.

I drove further on, took a left onto Finlay, and drove up to the top of the hill.  There was a lot of tree debris on the road, and along side the road.  When I came to Leadmine Road, I turned left, and headed to Route 20.  I hoped to reach it, I was out of options.

After a few minutes, I was at Route 20, on my way to Shaw's to return a movie at Red Box, and then onto Boston via the turnpike.

Whew.

My 30 minute inconvenience cannot be compared to others who lost belongings, and property due to the water and wind, and to the loss of life elsewhere on the east coast during the storm.  It just shows that we were all affected in big and small ways by storms.

Another thing my thirty minute maze-craze adventure could do is bring a little smile to your face as you imagine a middle-aged local man, armed to the teeth with the latest in GPS, poking his car into roads all over town like a mouse looking for a piece of cheddar, only to be  moved further, and further away from where he wanted to be.

For a short time late Sunday afternoon, I really couldn't get there from here, and I felt more yankee than I ever had before.

Ayuh.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Take A Break; It Is Meant to Be

Life lessons are only that if learned, otherwise what transpires is annoying, and often ignored.  Touch a hot stove, and most of us won't do it again.  Work for months and months without a respite, and you will begin to unravel.  This is one of the life's teachings that is ignored so much so that reminders are considered annoying, and we will block them.

Not a good decision.  When we begin to come undone we aren't playing our best game.  Our streams of thought are fuzzy, we make poor choices, we slip out of character, and act out.  Our job performance suffers, our relationships suffer.

Reasons are many as to why we let this happen.  Too many to get into, but what we can get into is how to make it better.  First off, just stop.  Stop moving so fast.  Stand still.  Take a breath, and then look around you.  Slowly.  Remember what you see. You haven't really seen it in a very long time.  Next, turn to your other half and look at them, and say, "Lets take a break".

Good start.  Now, choose a place for one, maybe two nights at least sixty miles away, and then count the days until you go.

We started a tradition when we first met to be sure to get away every few months, and at the very least every spring and autumn.  Minimally, it would be for two nights, but there are times when just one night will do wonders.

About three years ago we received a gift for dinner aboard the Cape Cod Central Railway.  The train runs from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay a few times each day for sightseeing, lunch, dinner, and the "elegant dinner", which we were booked for.

The Six Degrees of Separation
At the train station the night of the dinner, the conductor checked each passengers ticket and read their name aloud, and made a friendly comment about where they were from.  When he came to us, he took our ticket and read, "The Hersee party.  Any relation to Bob Hersee from Medfield?".  "He was my Dad", I replied, "He passed in March.".

The conductors greeting smile fell, and his face became quite sad.  "When the train is fully boarded, and everyone is seated, I'd like to share some stories about your Dad.  I am a retired music educator, and I knew your Dad quite well".

Of course, we were thrilled, and invited our conductor to join us.

After we were underway, Steve Bell, Train Conductor, and former high school music teacher, sat at our table and shared how he and Dad had met years ago during the All State music competitions around the commonwealth.  Unlike a lot of teachers, they had varied interests in music, and a natural friendship evolved.  They looked forward to seeing one another each year.  To hear someone speak so well of my father, and in the same tone as those that I knew quite well,  was comforting, and amazing.  Seems that Dad was respected everywhere he went, and not just in Medfield.

Mr. Bell was obviously touched by meeting us that evening.  He had a relationship with someone for a long time, and as the years went by, and Dad retired, and then Mr. Bell followed years later, they had lost touch, until that moment on the platform at the train station.  Our train conductor had turned our excellent day on Cape Cod into the perfect day.

Fate, destiny, kismet, or the more scientific theory of those Six Degrees of Separation, I really don't know.  What I would call it is something that was meant to happen, did, and for all parties it was wonderful.  It was also just two days after what would have been Dad's 78th birthday.

This all would not have occurred if we had not chose to take a little bit of time off to recharge, and to use that gift certificate on that particular weekend.  Mary took my hand across the table after Mr. Bell had left, and said, "Your Dad is here.  This was his way of telling you".

Take the time to recharge, and breathe deeply.  Empty your mind, and enjoy one another in a place far away from the days routines, even it's for just one day. There are experiences out there waiting for you, and friends you have yet to meet.

It is meant to be.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Simplicity Is Often The Key To A Great Idea

I never thought about it, and the reason may have been because the idea is so simple.

The idea to have Town Meeting on Saturdays during daylight hours is beyond simplicity.  It accomplishes so much by just changing the day, and the time.  More residents could attend that could not otherwise attend during a weekday evening due to the hour, work, childcare, or difficulty driving at night.

The town of Ashby had their Annual Town Meeting on Saturday May 7th at 9:30 in the morning.  

There is a petition in town asking for this change to happen, and it will be available to sign at Feast and Fire on Saturday August 20 between 2 to 6 PM.

Give it some thought.  Some things we do in town government are so convoluted, and complicated, then there are things like this, just a good and simple thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Any Good Recipe Takes A Bit Of Tweakin'

I have to admit, it's gotten better.

When I first arrived here in town, back at the beginning of the new millennium, I observed an old Yankee attitude that had been in place for generations.  Nothing wrong with an old Yankee attitude, it is one of thrift, ingenuity, pragmatism, and responsibility. All excellent traits, but unyielding, unswerving, unchanging, and being resistive are also part of being a Yankee.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

This is how some cultures last for so long without much change when challenged by the rest of the world.  They don't always last as long as first planned, though, look at what happened to the Shakers.  Small towns and villages, can be very much the same.  They function day to day as they always have, only taking on new projects, or change, when so mandated by necessity, such as when a bridge is out, or a school needs building.

This is New England, and we move with much well intentioned forethought before acting, and then fix a situation very well so we will not have to move that fast again for some time.  This is where our pragmatism, and ingenuity come into play.  It is also being responsible.

During the last ten years I have witnessed some nice changes here in town.  At first it was if it was like a chowda on the boil, and a new ingredient had been put into the batch.  All hell was bubbling over!  Soon, the angry bubbling began to subside, and become just a constant boil.  Still, it was something that needed to be dealt with, and it was.  New elections, new candidates, new townsfolk serving the residents with new ideas.

It's been a helluva ride, but what has happened is a liberation, and rebuilding of our small town culture.  We have decided not to watch society roll by in tour buses, we have decided to join their world.

That in itself is a humongus step in the right direction.

We are almost like a chick breaking out of its shell, and getting our bearings, and balance fine tuned.  We're a bit wobbly.  We are still making mistakes, but admitting them more often. We are also acting on them like the Front Door Debacle at the Town Hall.

And, then there's that "chowda".  It's still bubbling, cooking with the hope, and promise of something really good.  Like any recipe, there will be additions to the pot, and if they survive the tasting spoon of the townsfolk, they'll stay, if not, they'll be voted out of the recipe.

We've already tossed out a few ingredients.

What's your take?  Are we headed in the right direction?  Have we made progress over the last few years?  What is the one ingredient you would add to the pot for the ultimate chowda?




Monday, August 15, 2011

Small Town Entertainment Is Where You Find It

Route 148 in Fiskdale can be a bit trying at times with the high traffic volume at certain times of the day, the speeders at any time of the day, and the people that empty the trash from their cars onto our road on any given day.  Then, there are the positive things about living on a state highway.  I'll try to think of more than just one, but for now,  the neatest thing we have going for us is if there is something in your house that you would like to dispose of, then just place it at the end of your driveway on Route 148, and within 30 minutes it will be gone.

It's like magic, in fact, it may just be magic.

I've done this several times, and until yesterday I always had placed a hand painted sign proclaiming "FREE" beside the item.  Yesterday, I just placed the metal bakers rack leaning up against the trash bin without a sign, then I drove up town to the Red Box for a movie, and when I returned, it was gone.

Magic.  This is so cool.  The ultimate in recycling, re-purposing, and reusing items.  Obviously it looked useful to someone, and it was in good shape, so off it went to parts unknown.  I have done this a few times with various items, and all have vaporized within a very short time.  Being free kinda hastens the magic along, I think.  I have stopped at yard sales and spent $5 on a little wooden bookcase that I repainted and now holds books, DVD's and CD's.  If I have a need, and I see something I can re-purpose I'll spend the $5, and re-purpose an item, but when something is free it tugs at the Yankee in each of us, and actually  makes us stop the car, and claim the item in the name of frugality.

A frugal person visited me yesterday.  Thank you.

The headboard.
 Now, in the next few weeks we are going to replace some old circa 1930's bedroom furniture.  A couple of bureaus, and a full size bed with head, and foot board.  One drawer front is missing from one of the bureaus (long story, and my fault), but otherwise I am sure it will move.  After all, it is free.  I'll put it out on the side lawn under a tent, and this time I will place  a couple "FREE" signs around it.  If you would like to claim it before the set goes on display on the lawn, drop me a line, otherwise stop by with a stop watch on the day I put it out, and see if any time records are broken for the least time an item sits on the lawn.

We're a small town, we get our entertainment where we can.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

If You Want Them Faster, You Have To Ask For Them





The wording is designed to be accommodating to any board, but not restrictive to a citizens request.  At any time one would like to have a copy of the any meeting minutes, the minutes must be supplied within ten days of that request, not the date of the meeting, but the date of the request.  This is an accommodation, but not a restriction.

For those that are immensely interested in obtaining the minutes of any meeting you will not have to wait 120 days.  For the rest of us that are just interested in how well government works, and how to make it function smoother, and better, then we would like to know why it would take so long for meeting minutes to be released, and then why would they all be released at once?  Were they ready all at the same time? Then that would tell us they were not worked on until fairly recently.  And, why would minutes not be released as each set of meeting minutes was completed, and approved?   There are citizens in this town that look forward to reviewing the minutes, and watch elected bodies with great interest.  Is this fair to the citizens of Sturbridge to make them wait so long for meeting minutes from April and May?

I really don't think that the BOS can supply an answer to that, otherwise they would have responded by now.  Let's see if the next batch of minutes is released somewhat sooner, and more appropriately,  after each meeting.  I think they might be.

Housework is always a drag, but it has to be done before taking on work outside the home, otherwise one just gets all bogged down, and may end up being 120 days late in some things.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is It Me?

This morning I received five emails from the town, each with a Board of Selectman's Meeting minutes attached.  I signed up for this service long ago.

The minutes I received today were from April 12, April 29, May 2, May 9, and May 16.

Today is August 9th.

Time for a lesson.

The purpose of meeting minutes is two fold.  1)  To record for posterity to goings on inside a particular group, and 2) to inform those that were unable to attend the meeting of those goings on in a timely fashion.  This is usually done before the next meeting has begun in order to provide for feedback with old business.  The town is getting it half right.

Recording, and dispersing meeting minutes, like so many other things we make difficult in our lives, is a pretty simple process.  Take notes, type notes, submit minutes.  If one is unable to do this due to other duties, or undo editing from other sources, then something is wrong.

120 days from meeting to dispersal of the minutes.

(sigh)  Maybe it's me, and I just expect too much.


It Can't Be Helped, It's In the DNA

Not your grandfathers car anymore.
I really like gadgets.  Useful gadgets.  Gadgets that are not only fun to use, but do something in such a way that is  new, and unique that can make my day to day life a bit better.

Recently, I decided to trade in my six year old Ford pickup, as nice as it was, for something better with gas consumption, and a bit more comfortable.  I searched the Internet for a vehicle for about a month, and after researching sports cars, and practical sedans, I was coming up empty.  All the cars looked the same, and offered the same options.  In fact, if you drive on the Pike and cast an eye over to the traffic moving in the opposite direction you will see that all the cars are either, grey, black, more grey, dark blue, less grey, occasionally white, a rare yellow, and sometimes a red one, or bright blue one.

Boring.  It's like a bag of black and white M&M's.

I became frustrated.

Then one evening Mary then asked me to research another Ford product, a Lincoln.  She had ridden in one recently and liked it a lot.  Good enough for me.  Now, I would never had thought of researching a Lincoln.  My only impression of them was that they seem to be driven by really old people, or a chauffeur.  I googled it, and found that it was high on the list of JD Powers, and customers had good things to say about it.  I found one listed on a dealers website in Shrewsbury, and chose the "build your own" feature, and built the ideal vehicle for me.  After my "build",  I discovered that the dealer had the same car in stock.  Another thing I discovered was that these cars were far from the image I had of them, and they were affordable. They are also American made, another plus, and a very important one.

So, we went to check out the Lincoln MKZ at Sentry West in Shrewbury.  This car had it all.  One thing I found interesting was the car had only a single CD player, not the 6 CD player I had become accustomed to in recent years.  The reason for this is that the entertainment center was offering a USB port to plug in a thumb drive that could hold up to 2000 songs!  Amazing.  On my computer a USB port is great, but in my car?  In addition to the USB port, the vehicle has a 10 Gigabit hard drive to add CD's to.  All the music on my laptop can be dropped onto the removable USB drive and plugged into the car, and for those CD's not on my laptop, I just pop them in the drive, choose "record".  I can also plug an iPod directly into the car, but many new cars allow you to do that, too.  Still, it's just another gadget on the more useful side.

But, wait, there's more...

The car also comes with a six month trial of satellite radio, Sirius XM.  Now, I really don't see my self needing "The Elvis Channel", The Martha Stewart Channel, or twenty four hours of Grateful Dead music, but there are some channels that are well worthwhile, such as one that plays all the current hits, a smooth jazz channel, acoustic music, hits from the 70's, and then there is the Sirius Travel Network.  This is awesome.  The navigation system is big, bright, and loaded with usable options for searching points of interest, and if you couple the navigation with the Travel Network you can search for the best fuel prices in the area, traffic problems, movie schedules at your favorite multiplex, and when the car is not moving, sports schedules, and scores for your favorite teams.

I've used the fuel price search several times, and it is is very accurate, and as a result I have become a Pilot gas customer, well at least until the price drops lower at some other place.

Gadgets, all, but useful gadgets.  For a guy, any gadget that actually lights up, moves, and/ or makes a noise is a useful gadget, and is then called a "tool".  This cars has "tools".  Mary leans toward the word "toy".

Ever since man upgraded from throwing rocks, to making a spear, new gadgets have been a draw, and looking forward to the next neat thing was always worth the wait.  It's in a man's DNA.

I didn't choose the multi-color ambient lighting that lights up the cup holders, and other recesses in the car.  It's neat, but not really useful.  The seats are not only heated, a must in New England, but are also air conditioned.  AC in my seats.  Neat, and lately I've found them to be very useful.  Great tool.

One thing I have found over the years is that car interiors are "cave-like".  Dark fabrics, carpets, seats, and instrument panels.  Add window tinting, and I felt like I was driving the Flintstones house.

Dark is depressing, and, obviously, that kind of environment does little to lighten ones mood.  This car has a very light interior, light colored wood trim, and dash, and no excessive window tinting.  In fact, I don't think there is any.  This car is far from being a cave.

Safety is a great concern for anyone buying a new car.  Front airbags are important.  Side airbags are just as important, but not all vehicles come with them.  This one does.  The car also ranked very highest in collision tests, and ability to avoid rollovers.  Both excellent hidden benefits.



The  "Blind Spot Warning System" is a gadget that will be on all cars in a few years, it is that important.  Every car has a blind spot along side of it that the driver cannot visualize while driving.  Mirrors don't help, and turning ones head too much can lead to accident as well.  Changing lanes on the highway can be dangerous.  With the "Blind Spot Warning System" a radar signal is sent out from the side of the vehicle when another object enters into the blind spot, and a small yellow indicator light is lit in the side rear view mirror of the side of the car where the object is.  This safety "tool" alone is worth the price of admission, and greatly adds to ones peace of mind.

Still, despite all the high tech gadgetry designed to make life easier, and safer, one still has to use ones head, and not totally rely on the technology.  Things can break, stop working, or not work as well, but as adjuncts to our operating this heavy machinery, they are not only convenient, but becoming more and more necessary.

I've learned a few things with this new car purchase.  The first thing is that a Lincoln is far from a stodgy car for very old  people.  I am far from that demographic.   New technology has made driving safer, and more fun,  since I last bought a new vehicle 6 years ago.  Hands-free cell phone is something I have always supported, but a blue tooth earpiece was uncomfortable, although I used it.  This vehicle has the Sync® System.  A voice activated system that allows the driver to make hands free phone calls, control the radio, CD player, and the other media, and adjust the climate inside the cabin among other things.  Less distractions, and safer. Very convenient.

The vehicle is safer, and with the blocking of the program to check sport scores, and schedules of your favorite teams while the car is in motion, it is that much safer, however, I can still access the 5 Day Weather forecast on the screen, and a live weather map.  These can be just as distracting as finding the score of a ball game.  Just have to use ones head.

All in all I can't wait for more innovations, and more gadgets / tools.  This particular vehicle also comes in a hybrid model, but then I would have to give up the all wheel drive.  Need the sure-footedness of AWD on the Pike in the winter, so I can do without the hybrid version for now.  The car also allows the primary user to set up limitations, and restrictions that can accompany the an other key.  Let's say you loan the car to one of your teens to use, you can set it not to exceed a certain speed, or to mute all the audio until the seat belts are fastened.  Talk about more peace of mind.

The color is not just white, it is Platinum White, and it is far removed from the other high gloss, clear coat whites seen on new cars.  It is just that different.

I don't buy a new car often, not like my parents used to do, and trade one in every two years, but when I do I expect to upgrade.  This time around I feel I did, and I bought an American car.  I have nothing against foreign cars, but over the past few years our auto manufacturers have needed all the help they could get, and I was not yet willing to divert my dollars elsewhere.  I now own a very well built, and affordable car American car.

Now, if you see me sitting in this car for a long time in a parking lot somewhere, and not moving, it's probably because I just rented a movie a Red Box, and I'm watching it in the car.  Can't watch a movie on the front display while driving.

Gadgets, if you're a guy, ya gotta love 'em, if you're the guys wife, just smile and nod.  It can't be helped,  it's in the DNA.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Honoring Those That Served Also Means Honoring Their Wishes

In response to a presentation to the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen on July 25, 2011, and reprinted on page 4 of  last weeks Town Common.
I believe it was always spoken of as The Veterans Monument.  A memorial is across the street.  Those that wanted the plaques removed from inside the Town Hall were quite specific about the difference between a memorial, and a monument.  It may have been misspoken by some in town, but not consistently, and not by those that were involved.

It is a monument to those that served, the ones we call veterans.   A Veterans Monument.  It is a monument to their service.  Those that view the monument acknowledge those that did serve by saying to themselves, or softly aloud, thank you.

That's the sole purpose of this Veterans Monument, to acknowledge those that served to protect us.

This is how Sturbridge chose to acknowledge their sons and daughters that served in any "era".    Most may not have landed at Iwo, or fought in the Aleutians, been aboard a boat on the Mekong, invaded Iraq, or experienced frost bite during a Korean winter.  Most may have served stateside, an office in Saigon, or boat yard in Quincy, yet they served.  They are veterans.

I don't think any one veteran ever asked to be honored on a bronze plague.  The town chose to do so.

The Town of Sturbridge chose to honor its veterans in this manner, on bronze set in stone, outside our most important building in our town.  All the veterans want is to be included in the decisions regarding their monument, and above all, for their monument to be returned to where it was before the restoration of the town hall began.  Where it had been for years, and years.  It is just that simple

Simple requests, and ones that don't require a whole bunch of discussion concerning who served when, and where they served, and are they truly war veterans.

One more thing, your name may not be on "no monument anywhere", and you "like it that way", but your entire previous paragraph outlining just who you were in the military, where you served, and your accomplishments is a monument to your incredible service, and for that, I say, "Thank you".

Don't ever let anyone move your "monument", or take anything away from it, and above all,  prevent you from sharing it.  You deserve the acknowledgment, and the thanks, as do our Sturbridge veterans.