Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cripes. The Dreaded Wednesday Morning Do Over

A reader read my earlier post this morning, and pointed out to me that the billing period for National Grid in January was 35 days, and in December it was only 25.  November had 34 days.

A hat I should have worn.
Duh, Wally.

I did not take the length of the billing period into account when figuring our electricity usage.  Very important number to have left out.

So, let me share what I re-figured.

Electricity for January 2013 was 866 kWh over 35 days for an average of 24.7 kWh/day.

Electricity for December 2012=  603 kWh over 25 days for an average of 24.1 kWh/day.  

A difference of only 0.6 kWh.  Whew.

Compared to December of 2011 when we used 723 kwh over 35 days for 20.6 kWh / day. There was the an increase in daily kWh of 14% between those two December months.

November was the month I could not explain the peak in usage until I went back, and saw that November had 34 days compared to Octobers 28 days.

Double duh.

Yes, there was still an increase in kWh from 18.53 / day in October to 24.5 / day in November, but the increase of 24.3% was not as great as I had originally thought.  Septembers was  18.79 / day.

So, it looks like as the season advanced, the kWh did increase.  In the summer the kWh were higher due to using the air conditioners.  During the heating season our electrical use should not increase as the temperature outside decreases, unless it is done voluntarily by using the portable heater on the porch, or the bathroom heater.  The porch heater can be turned off, and not used.  The bathroom heater is something that is a comfortable convenience, and I'm willing to spend a couple of dollars more to keep Mary from turning into the Ice Princess.  I'll let you know how the next billing period goes.

This goes to show exactly much how heating appliances can affect your energy consumption.

We used 7382 kWh in all of 2011, and 7623 kWh in 2012, but since the kWh cost was less for us, we actually saved $7.41 last year.

The best part of all this was besides staying about even with our electrical use for the 12 months, we did manage to save 147.6 gallons of oil, a 24.7% savings compared to 2011! At an average of $3.83 / gallon that comes to a $565.30 monetary savings.

Those savings could pay for a half a year of electricity service.

I knew there would be an in increase in electrical usage, how much I was not sure.  I also knew there would be a savings in our oil usage, and I did not know that either.

Now, I that have an idea of both, another Human System, the system of Tweakin' comes into play.  I will tweak our electrical consumption more.  We've already switched over to the new CFL bulbs in 95% of our lights, but there are still a couple of candelabra lights that need to be switched over.  These bulbs DO save energy, and money.

I'll look for more ways as the months go on.

Thanks again to the reader that pointed out the difference in billing periods.  I feel a better now that the numbers can be explained better.  I am glad we are still on track.

Everyone needs a hobby, and this will be mine until the warm weather comes back.

Changing Systems Is Way Easier Than Changing Behaviors

Our house was built in 1858.  In the attic there are log rafters, and in the basement the floor joists are logs as well.  Over the years indoor plumbing was added, electricity wired from room to room, and central heating installed.  Each service matured over time, and some new innovations melded with the old.  Our boiler is not that old, but works very well with the old cast iron radiators in all the rooms.  The old iron plumbing has been slowly replaced over the years by copper pipes, and most recently PEX (polyethylene) piping.  They all work well together, but as time goes by, one generation of pipe is replaced by the most modern pipe.

We stopped using the boiler in our furnace to heat our domestic hot water in 2012.  First, in July we converted the new bathroom over to on demand hot water use, and in November we converted the entire house to the on demand system since the electrical cost had not gone crazy, and our oil consumption was heading down.

On December 28, 2007 we received our last oil delivery for that year for a grand total of 1273 gallons for the year.  This was our first full year in our home.  The oil was not only used for heat in the heating season, but for domestic hot water needs year round.  That's a lot of oil.

Now, keep in mind that the house is over 150 years old, and although there have been improvements over the years, it still is an old house.  An old, uninsulated house.  The only insulation we have found is a some old rock wool insulation in the attic flooring, a bit of blown in insulation in one exterior wall, and none in any of the other walls.  Essentially there is plaster and lathe, air space, and the exterior wall.  Not a good combination for New England winters.

At the end of 2007, on December 14, we had 19 windows replaced with Harvey insulated windows.  The house insulation would have to wait a bit.  The following year we used 264 less gallons, and at an average cost of $3.36 per gallon that year we saved $887.04.

Not bad, but I expected more.  The following year, 2009, we saved an additional 399 gallons of oil.  How?  I think we were just a lot more vigilant, and the set back thermostat we had installed the previous year was making a difference.

In 2010 our oil usage went up to 972 gallons.  That winter must have been a cold one, but still, I expected to save oil, and here I was using more.  Still, no insulation in the walls, just the new windows.

So, at the end of 2011 we saved 29 more gallons from the previous year at 943, but it was not as low as it had been in 2009.  It was time to think about the insulation, or make some other changes.

We planned to renovate the second floor bathroom in 2012, so the insulation took a back seat again, however, if the renovation was done right, we could still save oil.

After talking to our heating oil man, and getting a whole bunch of ideas about different hot water systems we opted to go with an on demand electric system.  I had always thought it made little sense to heat water in anticipation of using it, instead of as needed. Heating in anticipation was a hold over from when plumbing was moved indoors, and an option was given to heat the bath water on the stove, or have it on hand in the boiler for when you needed it.  Very modern and convenient at the time, but not very thrifty today.

At the end of 2012, after converting our hot water heating needs to an on demand system, our oil consumption has gone from the high in 2007 of 1273 gallons to only 709.6 gallons in 2012!

That is a 44% saving in oil with only the new windows, and a new hot water system.  Imagine what the savings would be like if we had put insulation in the walls!

So what about the electric usage?  Did it go up with the on demand hot water system, and eat up all those oil savings?

We started up the on demand hot water system in late July of 2012.  Our kilowatt hours for July of 2011 was 868, and in 2012 went to 988.

         2011                                                 2012

September  626 kWh                     September   533 kWh
October      561 kWh                     October       519 kWh
November  420 kWh                     November    833 kWh
December  723 kWh                     December    603 kwh
January      570 kWh                     January       889 kWh          whoops.

What the heck happened in November of this past year is beyond me.  Too early for Christmas lights, but I think someone discovered the new bathroom ceiling electric heater.  It was also the month that the whole house went on the on demand system, but that happened late in the month, and the following month was much lower.

At the end of 2012 we not only saved oil, we had saved more electricity in the final month of the year than the previous year by 120 kWh!

I was waiting to see what the last 30 days had wrought, and today I found out.  (Insert frowny face here)  Our electricity (kilowatt) usage went way up compared to last year, and last month.  Since our electrical usage is not dependent upon the winter weather, and our kWh usage was very good last month, the things that would actually increase the amount of kWh used would be things that we have complete control over.  There is a portable electric heater on the sun porch that we use to occasionally bump up the room temperature.  Apparently, we have been using it far more than would be wise.  We hardly used it at all in December.  The bathroom ceiling heater is used, as it should be, but I think we need to be a bit more judicious before we flip the switch.

ADDENDUM:  December 2012 National Grid bill was for 603 kWh over only 25 days for 24.12 kWh per day, and January 2013 kWh was 866 over 35 days equaling 24.7 kWh per day.  So the electrical use did not increase substantially compared to December, or November.  January 2012 had 603 kWh over 25 days for 19.89 kWh/ day.  Comparing the two months of January, a year apart, shows there was an increase in kWh usage by 19%, and an oil savings of 25%.

(sigh)  The Human System is the hardest to regulate.

Seems that all the systems are all functioning as they should, and intended to work, but it the human system that actually needs tweaking.  Which leads me to a few additional changes that need to be done.

The first is a behavior change. Of course, if staying warm in the bathroom when bathing, or showering is important, and we can tolerate the increased electricity bill every month, then so be it.  Within reason, of course, and if our carbon foot print increases to a size 12 EEE, and harmony is maintained, well then, so be it.  It will become the comfort vs. planet argument, and that is one that is fought in every household.

In addition to what I've already mentioned above, decreasing our oil consumption is a goal we work on everyday, and are both on board with.  We also don't blast the heat all day. We'll turn it up if the house gets around 61.5 F during the day, or if it gets a bit chilly in the evening.  At night,  it sets itself back to 58 F.  We don't have it go much above 64-65 f.  Iron radiators have a way of letting the heat linger longer than forced hot air.  Mary will also throw my sweatshirt at me, if I complain about being too cold at other times.  She's got a good aim, and she usually hits my hand as it's reaching for the thermostat.

Effective human system at work there.

Insulation is something I will look more into this coming year.  If you know of anyone, locally, that blows insulation into older homes, drop me a line.  We always prefer to go with a reputable, local company.

In the meantime, the next purchase is to buy a Nest thermostat for the house.  Not familiar with the Nest thermostat?  It was developed by the man responsible for designing the iPod, and iPhone.  Many of those that helped with the development were former Apple people.   To learn more about just how this team re-invented the thermostat read this article, and how it can reduce your heating bill beyond what a traditional setback thermostat can, view the video below.

Review: The Second-Generation Nest Thermostat

In the meantime, check out this video.  The thermostat is available at Lowe's.

We can save both money and energy by a spending a little, or a lot to do it.  Whether it be new windows, new hot water system, new thermostat, or new behaviors, they all will work.

Good luck, and let me know how you've done, and I'll let you know where the kilowatts fall next month.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Help Plan Sturbridge's 275th Anniversary


I am asking folks who might be interested in planning an event or events related to the 275th anniversary to attend a meeting on Wednesday, February 13 at 4pm here in Town Hall .  We can discuss the scope, funding and timeline and gauge interest in participation.  Feel free to pass along to other interested parties as any committee will need to be driven by local residents.

Thank you.

Shaun A. Suhoski
Town Administrator

Town of Sturbridge
308 Main Street, Town Hall
Sturbridge, MA 01566

Webots, Uvama, And You

I finally made the list of places of where robot like web nuisances like to visit, and annoy.  To be a little clearer, a few months ago I started getting  benign anonymous comments about most any posting I made.  The comments  are generic, obtuse, always pleasantly written without regard for syntax, do not mention the content of the post at all, and always have an attached link.  The link, is the purpose of the sending the little robot off to deliver the comments, and I am sure, will lead the person that clicks on it to a world of computer hurt.  In the example below, the link resided in the words "electronic cigarette".  Don't worry, I removed it.  Whew.

"Thanks for the good writeup. It actually used to be a leisure account it.
Look complicated to more added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?Feel free to surf my weblog Electronic Cigarette."


One way to thwart these robot like programs is to activate the word verification function pictured above.  In the past, I have used it, but turned it off since I felt it may be too much of a nuisance for people to endure.

Cripes, what does this say about my audience?

Anyway, it's back up and running now, so if you are leaving a comment, just play along. Comments from real folks are far better than the little notes from webots that I've been receiving.

Unless, they remember my birthday, then I may reconsider that statement.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maybe, Just Maybe

2 Maine brothers killed in Bay State car accident

Posted May 13, 2002, at 7:26 a.m.
STURBRIDGE, Mass. – Two brothers from Maine were killed Saturday when their car was struck by a tractor-trailer on Route 20 in Sturbridge.
Venner Curtis, 74, of North Haven and Ronald Curtis, 69, of Owls Head pulled out of a Best Western hotel and into the path of the oncoming truck at about 8:30 a.m., state police said.
Both men were taken to Harrington Hospital where they were pronounced dead.
The driver of the truck was uninjured but was taken to the hospital for evaluation.
No charges have been filed against the truck driver, state police Sgt. Edward Principe said.

I received the following comment this morning:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Main Street Improvement Proposals Wanted": 

"It appears that wish #3 is about to be fulfilled. In early January (2013), I observed trucks on either side of Route 20 near the corner of New Boston Road. After two weeks they left leaving a section of conduit sticking out of ground on either side of the highway. I speculate this is will accomodate electrical connections for a new traffic light at that location."

The intersection of New Boston Road, and Route 20.

Same corner looking up to where the Best Western Hotel
had stood until last week when it was torn down.
Hmmm.  Worth a look I figured.  So, after a run to Home Depot, I drove by the intersection really slow.  There, popping out of the ground, at the end of a trench running from the utility pole, was an orange conduit.  What's more was an identical orange conduit on the east bound side of Route 20 with a trench running towards the State Police barracks area.

Well, if it walks like a duck...

Then, again, it could be nothing more than just an orange conduit poking up out of the ground, but 11 years after brothers Venner and Ronald Curtis of Maine died at this intersection, I am hoping for something  a bit more than orange conduit.

Maybe, just maybe.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Won't Say It

"Riverlands pollution test reveals new contamination" read the headline in the Town Common this past Thursday.

"New contamination" is a misnomer.  It is not new, in fact, it is quite old.  It is only new to those that are assessing the site.  They missed it the first time around.

Saying "I told you so"  is juvenile, and non productive, however, this morning I am feeling like a kid.  Still, I won't say it.

On November 26, 2007 I wrote about the Riverlands, after taking a walk along that trail with Mary.  "We Bought A Dump, Now What?" received comments assuring me that everything was going to be fine, in fact the town had secured an extra $25,000 to help fix the land.

$25,000.  Yep, that'll do it.

On December 1st, I again wrote about the Riverlands, "About That Dump We Bought", and included some photos we took along the trail of all the debris at the old dump.

According to this weeks article about the Riverlands, the engineering firm hired by the town, Tighe and Bond, will be using new methods to asses the areas of concern.  I am sure the new methods include looking around.

The selectmen would like the area of contamination delineated so that a fence could be erected to keep folks away from the contamination, and out of harms way.  The conservation agent, Glenn Colburn expressed concern that fences could block the migratory routes for wildlife.

In the meantime, there will be no remediation of the land that was used as a dump for many years.  The heavy metals dumped there such as chromium, and lead, will continue to seep into the earth, and into the river.  The trail will be laid out, signs will be erected to warn hikers to stay on the trail, and we will make do.  The selectmen would like it sooner, than later.  Why the hurry now?  Maybe because little has been done since the land was purchased with the exception of making it off limits, and confirming what most in town that knew the land, already knew.

Six years ago there was discussion about the land, and what to do with it.  Some had a vision of what the land could be, and many knew what was on, and under the land, but it was still purchased during our "spend now, pay for 40 years"  period.  Now, there is still discussion on just what the heck to do with this mess we bought in September of 2007.  Six years do not erase, or ease the criticism, it only prompts one to ask, "What the hell has been going on for six years?".  An engineering assessment for six years?  A formula for land remediation that has been labored on for six years?  I have no clue, and it would be nice to know that the past six years were used effectively, instead of the just hoping we would forget about the contamination on the land.

Bottom line is we should never have purchased the land without a bit more due diligence.

Let's see what comes of this latest foray into resurrecting the "Riverlands".  Afterall, we've been waiting for almost six years, what's another few months?

Oh, and I won't say it.  No, that would be really childlike, and wouldn't solve anything.  I can think it, though.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Think Before You Click

"If I could read your mind love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind that drugstores sell"

Gordon Lighfoot sang prophetically about wanting to read his loves mind back in 1974.  Now, 39 years later, he no longer has to wish for it.  No.  All he needs to do is follow his love on Twitter.

Ten to one, he drops her after a day.

When I was a young man, I was handed down the maxim of not talking politics, or religion with others.  Arguments, and differences of opinions will always ensue, and friendships have been know to die because of it.  Keep your ideas to yourself, unless specifically asked for your opinion, and then think a bit before sharing it.

If you are on a campaign that requires your to share your views, then so be it.  Your ideas, beliefs, and views will either hinder, or hurt your campaign, and that is totally expected.

As always, know your audience, and hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Todays media siphons ones thoughts out of our heads as if we all lived in a 1950's science fiction movie.  Once out we then actually type them, and click a button insuring the world will be privy to those thoughts.  We share far too much, and it is not the outside world that has broken into our minds, it is us that have opened the gate, and let out thoughts run rampant across Twitter, and Facebook.

I do it, too.  Much too much according to Mary.  I may share a picture of a pie Mary just baked, or post where we're eating out, maybe the show we are at, or a funny video.  Everyday things.  Things I would do without Facebook, and in person.  I hope I don't post any  pie photos, or restaurant check-ins that offend anyone, or change a persons opinion of me.

Actually, I know I don't.

But, there are those that do, and this week I have witnessed it twice from sources I would never have expected it.  The first time was on Facebook the day of the Presidents speech about guns, violence, and how our children are affected.  That day, the President had four young kids behind him on the stage with their parents as he spoke. He shared an example of how each one felt about the Newtown massacre in order to show just how the events of that day affect others.  In this case, how it affected the children.

What I saw on Facebook was posting by a local journalist with four photos.  A photo of Adolf Hitler with young German children, a picture of Mao Tse Tung with Chinese children, Joseph Stalin with Soviet children, and lastly, President Obama with those children on stage the day of his speech.  The caption was a line from Pink Floyds song, The Wall, "Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone".


The posting threw me.  Was this journalist comparing Hitler, Mao, and Stalin to Obama because he involved children in a speech that had everything to do with children, and how guns had killed other children?

This time, that writer let too many of his thoughts escape.  Sharing a political thought, or opinion is totally different than what this posting offered.  It revealed a side of the man I had not seen before through his writings in a local magazine.

I won't read him again.  I don't need that kind of hate, and negativity in my life.  The respect I once had for him, his craft, and talent, are gone.  

Later in the week I stumbled on the Twitter feed of a local politician that should be limited to 144 characters a year, never mind per Tweet.  As soon as a thought burps to the top of his head, he sends it out as a Tweet.  

Makes sense.  Share everything one thinks with the world.  It's the best way to ingratiate yourself with your constituents.

I don't need to know every thought he is developing as the day evolves.  There is no filter on those burps.  What I knew of this man prior to reading his unfiltered thoughts was much higher than what it is now.  

Needless to say, the local journalist is no longer a "friend" on Facebook.  I choose not to contaminate my life with his thoughts.  I don't use Twitter, I just went on it after receiving an email following up since I had signed up for it when I bought my iPhone a few years ago.  The email recommended people I may know.  I clicked on one, and now, I regret it.

Should have left well enough alone.

Yes, I do use Facebook, and I do write here, on this blog.  I use the current media, and at times I may share a bit too much of my personal life, but I have promised Mary to be better.  I am opinionated when I see a wrong, or something that needs some reconsideration, and I want to initiate a change, or correction.  I also share humor, history, and bits of life. 

I will not cross the line.  What you read here, and on Facebook, is just me.  If you know me personally, you will never be surprised by what you read here.

I was surprised earlier this week.

Remember, that yours thoughts are your own, as is your opinion.  You can choose to share, but your choice of just what to share, how to share it, and whom to share it with will dictate how you are perceived by everyone.

Typing and clicking is not a benign activity.  You touch others each time you do it.

There, (click) you've been touched.  Now, pass it on in a good way.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Then And Now

Covered bridge at Old Sturbridge Village in the late

Same covered bridge today from the opposite direction.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Sidewalks Are Clear! The Sidewalks Are Clear!

I was driving along Route 20 from Route 148 this morning, on my way to do some errands, when I saw in the distance, a small Bobcat type type tractor with a snowthower attachment on the front of it clearing the sidewalks.  It was actually clearing the sidewalks on the north side of Route 20 while being trailed by a "support" pick up truck.

The tractor was taking out the entire snow berm that usually separates the street from a cleared sidewalk leaving only small mounds of snow around the utility poles where it could not reach.  One long section that had been cleared by hand the owner of the property along the side walk was left intact, and not bothered by the tractor.  Good idea. 

The cleared sidewalks looked great, and safe passage along Main Street in Sturbridge has been restored.

Now, whether the timing of the sidewalk clearing had anything to do with yesterdays post here on this page, or folks contacting the town hall on their own, or maybe it was just scheduled to be cleared today anyway, it doesn't matter at this point. The clearing may be a few days late, but what matters is the sidewalks along Route 20 have been cleared by the town, as it always should be.  Pedestrians can once again safely walk along Main Street without having to run the gauntlet in the street from driveway to driveway.

To whomever made the decision to clear the sidewalks today, thank you.  Well done.  Nothing can replace keeping our residents safe when it is within our power, and is our responsibility to do so.  

It's going to be a long winter, keep up the good work.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


For five years I have used this space to write about many things, many of those were about Sturbridge.  The good, bad, and the silly were all written about here.  My inspiration to write is the incredible pride I have in being a resident of this town.  When I see something that is wonderful, I have written about it, as well as when I have seen something that could use a bit of fixing.

I've also written about the downright foolish things.  There have been a lot of those.  I live for those moments.

Today I felt something I have never felt about my town before.  I felt shame.

I saw many people walking on Route 20 because the town will not plow the sidewalks.   The recent storm dumped a foot of snow on Sturbridge, and our roads were tended to in good fashion as they always are, but for yet another winter our sidewalks were not touched.  The town has ruled that those that own a business, or their home, along a sidewalk must clear the sidewalk in front of their property themselves.  The town will not do it.

How is the towns responsibility for the town built roadways any different than the town built sidewalks is beyond me.  Property owners aren't required to shovel the street yet, but there may come a time.

Driving along Route 20 showed almost the entire sidewalk was untouched except in some areas that had been shoveled with a path about 18 inches wide from property line to property line, and then stopped.  Some of the shoveled areas still had many inches of snow left in place.

The most ludicrous sight I saw was the sidewalk along the town owned land at the corner of Main Street and Cedar Street had been plowed by the town right to the property line, and at the property line the the unplowed sidewalk remained.

I'll tell you what this says. It says that the town will only make safe for the residents pieces of sidewalk along town land.  At the end of the town owned land, where the unplowed sidewalks live, where the safe town path has led you, is a path that is obviously unsafe to tread.

The town knows this, but will continue to clear bits and pieces leading to the unsafe paths forcing you to walk in the street. The town is actually encouraging you to walk in the street, instead of using the sidewalks we paid to have constructed.  When the sidewalks were built they were built as year round sidewalks, not as seasonal paths.

Imagine a family pushing a stroller on a sunny winter day on the roadway of Route 20 near Motel 6, and a car being driven by a driver unfamiliar with the area rounds the bend, and takes out the entire family.

It can happen, but lets just sit back sand see how long it will take.  Like we are waiting to see when the next fatality occurs at the intersection of New Boston Road, and Route 20.

Bottom line is the sidewalks were built to make foot traffic safe for people along the roadways in town.  They were built for us as year round structures.  We did not agree to them being three season.

If the town can drive their tractor from the town shed to the corner of Main and Cedar, and back again, then how much more money is it going to cost to clear the sidewalks on the way there, and back again?

Really.  How much money did we save?

I challenge the Selectmen to give a rational reason why this bylaw is in place along with an accounting of just how much money has been saved since it went into effect.

Are we in that much fiscal trouble here in Sturbridge that we can no longer afford to perform simple highway maintenance?