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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You're Kidding? Really?

Here's a thought, who else thought this would ever  happen?
Took me totally by surprise.

Article published Oct 29, 2013

Sturbridge fire official quits, rips chief, town leaders


STURBRIDGE — The Sturbridge Fire Department is "being run by fear and intimidation by a misdirected, unpredictable police chief," according to the temporary deputy fire chief, who resigned, effective immediately, on Tuesday.

In his resignation letter, Edward G. Bourassa said he refuses to be part of "further destroying the morale, firefighters' confidence and departmental readiness any more."

Retiring in 2007, Mr. Bourassa had 16 years of command experience in the Sturbridge Fire Department, serving 14 years as captain. In a 3-2 vote on June 3, selectmen appointed the retired fire captain as the town's temporary deputy fire chief. Selectmen Mary Blanchard and Mary B. Dowling both voted against the appointment.

He was to serve through Jan. 17 at a salary of $64,299.

Police Chief Thomas J. Ford III has been serving as acting fire chief since April 25. He replaced Chief Leonard E. Senecal, a 35-year veteran of the force, who was placed on paid administrative leave April 22 after a consultant's report critical of his management. Chief Senecal retired May 17. Town Administrator Shaun A. Suhoski said he estimates that Chief Ford will serve as the acting fire chief through Dec. 1.

Not only did he have unkind words for Chief Ford, Mr. Suhoski and Selectman Thomas R. Creamer, his board's chairman, but Mr. Bourassa said in his resignation letter that he is relieved to be out of the "pressure cooker" that has become the Sturbridge Fire Department.

"I wish I could say that it is with great sadness, but it is not," Mr. Bourassa wrote in his resignation letter. "I am relieved to be out of the pressure cooker the department has become under the supervision of your police chief."

Mr. Bourassa griped that Mr. Suhoski and Mr. Creamer clearly told him that Chief Ford would only handle administrative tasks while Mr. Bourassa would deal with the "day-to-day operations" of the fire department.

Instead, at the Public Safety Complex, Mr. Bourassa alleged, "in-fighting and backstabbing" are "out of control," and everyone in the department lives in fear of being "the next one on the police chief's hit list" amid "constant threats of investigations on just about everything that goes on."

Mr. Bourassa wrote that every group of fire professionals he is aware of has said a police chief should not be allowed to manage a fire department for even a short time, and he added that he could not agree with them more.

Chief Ford "has absolutely no fire, rescue or emergency medical service experience and yet has been allowed to do whatever he wants, behaving like a 'subject matter expert' which he is not," Mr. Bourassa wrote. "The bottom line is that police and fire services are very different and need supervisors who understand and know what they're doing."

Mr. Bourassa also said Chief Ford has locked every cabinet in the Fire Department, and fire personnel need permission to access any fire documents.

"It's ridiculous. This is a travesty, and ultimately where is the big, secret disgrace left by the former chief? Nowhere because there was none," Mr. Bourassa said. "This is a fire department being run by fear and intimidation — by a misdirected, unpredictable police chief."

He claimed he was not allowed to make "one real decision" and was "kept in the dark" on the selection process of all of those hired or promoted during his time as temporary deputy chief.

"Why have someone with more than three decades of fire service experience come in just to have a police officer with no fire experience tell us how it needs to be done?" Mr. Bourassa said. "If this type of strong-armed leadership is so successful, why are police officers leaving or asking for demotion?"

In his "exit interview" from 2007, Mr. Bourassa said his attempts to reform the Fire Department had all been "a waste of time," since his suggestions were either "brushed off" or he was told to "go ahead" only to have any follow-up attempt ignored.

"This individual left the department six years ago because of too little management accountability. Now he leaves because there is too much management accountability," Mr. Suhoski said. "I think anyone can understand that it is difficult to transition from a work environment with minimal accountability to one that seeks greater accountability. I remain confident that the next permanent fire chief will work closely with our dedicated employees and continue the substantial progress that has been made over the past six months under acting Chief Ford's leadership."

In Tuesday's resignation letter, Mr. Bourassa, who refers to himself as a "proud retired member of the once-strong Sturbridge Fire Department," offered his "sincerest apology" to those in the fire department who had come to him in hopes that he could change what was happening.

Mr. Bourassa chastised current and previous selectmen for causing the problem that existed with Chief Senecal and now.

"When all of the members of the board ignore the issues and look the other way while only listening to the person causing the problems, there is no way for changes to be effected," Mr. Bourassa wrote. "This is the exact situation that created the original problems under the former chief, a board who only listens to the one person who is creating the problems or trying to cover up his own ineffectiveness."

Mr. Bourassa, Chief Ford and Mr. Creamer did not return calls.

Craig S. Semon can be reached at

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

To Be Sure

Closed up the cottage over this past weekend.  Now, I can address all those things I have neglected around the house here in Sturbridge since May 1st.  I haven't fed the cats since the spring.

There is no getting around what lies ahead.  Mary has a handful of paint chips, a head full of ideas, and I'm out of reasons, and ways of whining , "But, why?".

The living room, and dining room are now on her short list.

I don't really mind painting, in fact, I enjoy it.  It's a chance to concentrate on something so exclusively, that I can block everything else around me really well.  When I'm not painting, I've been told that this attribute is called, "not-paying-attention", or daydreaming.  I've heard that all my life.  I like putting something I obviously do quite well, and regularly, to a productive use.

So, this fall, hopefully "before the Holidays are here", and I am hoping Mary was referring to Memorial, and Flag Day, I will join the ranks of millions of other homeowners performing DIY projects around the house.

With this project, the biggest hurdle we had to overcome was choosing the right color.  This is the most frightening step.  Husbands have actually gone missing during this phase, yet the rooms still get painted.  Zombies on October 31st are bad enough, but they are nothing against a spouse with a color theme banging about between their ears (shudder).

Together, "we" thought, something rather neutral, but not in the browns, tans, and beige's, maybe the greys, but not too green grey, or too blue grey, and, of course, not too, grey grey.

That narrows our choices down, he said with a happy face.  (sigh)  Like as if it did.

So out came the Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore smart phone apps, and all the millions of colors in their respective pallets.  With each new color texted, or shown in person, came the words, "What about this one?", or "This?", or "This is nice.", "Ooo, I like this.", and those were just from me.  Mary was more to the point.  "No.", "Too green.", "Too blue.", "Are you serious?", "You are kidding, right?"

A trip the paint store in Maine resulted in our relieving them of 30, or so, paint chips.  Three, or four hours later, during halftime in Sturbridge, Mary had them taped, and staggered around the living room , and dining room. With a serious, no nonsense look, she asked me, "Can I see you for a minute?"

Cripes.  This did not sound good.

Stonington Grey is third from the top left.
I followed her into the dining room to see the little paint chip cards leaning on the chair rail against the current wall color.  While looking at all those greys, I was able to rule out 98% in seconds, but that still left a couple, and thank God, they were the same ones Mary was leaning towards. (insert fist pump, and whispered, "Yes!" here)

Hallelujah.  Almost done.  Right, Mary? Huh?  Almost done now?  My nachos were getting soggier, and the game was going to start, and...  "Stop it", she said as she pointed at the paint chip confetti leaning against the wall, "pick one".

And, I did.  I picked the very best ones, huh, Mare?  Didn't I?

The finalists were then taken into the living room, and taped to the wall beside a few test blotches from sample cans of grey paint.  After we stared at them in the late afternoon light, in the darkest area of the room.  Mary paused, stared without blinking, and said, "I found it.  I like the Stonington Grey."  To which I found myself responding, "So do I.", and I meant it, that color looked great.  Weeks, countless conversations, paint chips, text messages later we had finally decided on the very best, like, most excellent color evaahh.

A lot of work, thought, and effort were expended way beyond seeing that first color sample on the phone.  A friend of Mary's even had a sample of that first color, and, of course, it had to be applied to the wall just to be sure.

Yep, and that first color that sparked the process?  That color was Stonington Grey the actual color we had chosen in the end.  So what was all that stuff in the middle then?  That process is called, "Just To Be Sure".  We all do it.  Try a recipe one way, then another way just to be sure, buy a shirt with a neck size of 18 inches instead of 17 1/2, just to be sure, take home two gallons of ice cream for the party, instead of one, just to be sure.  Adding a 1/16th of an inch to the measurement before picking up the saw.  It's a great process, and saves a whole bunch of mistakes, and do-overs.

I think there needs to be wider use of this "Just-To-Be-Sure" thing, and used for everything from selecting a shirt, and paint color, to choosing a partner.  Think about it, if more of us had put as much effort into selecting a partner for life as we did in selecting a paint color for the living room, the divorce rate would be reduced greatly, and we would be happy for a lot longer.

Yep.  I know that for a fact.

Vacuuming the rug a minute longer, tightening that lug nut one more quarter turn, topping off the gas tank, putting aside a little extra for those rainy days, going on that blind date you have been told about for months just to be sure.  They are all worth the effort, and will not only give you peace of mind, but the satisfaction knowing you could not have done any better.

No, I could not have done any better at all.

Take another sip of coffee, and look around you. What do you see that you could do, or have done the best you could do, just to be sure?  If you don't see anything, then that is your assignment for the day:  find something, and then find something tomorrow, and the following day.

Think of it as "lather, rinse, repeat" mantra for peace of mind, and personal happiness. When you go that extra bit, and are trully happy, completely satisfied, and very much at ease, with your accomplishments, then those around you will be as well.  Unless you feel that changing your socks every few days, sitting around in your underwear on your days off, not shaving, seldom taking the trash out, and saying things like, "Whatever color you like, honey" will make those around you happy, then think again, just to be sure.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Being Prepared

Two years ago this week we were following the weather forecast that predicted snow.  Snow on, or about Halloween.  It didn't look good, and based on what we were seeing on the TV, we decided to take a ride to Sears in Auburn.

At Sears we said hello to our little friend, an eight HP, 26 inch wide brute with power steering.  I picked it up the day before the snow fell.

Up until then I had no problem shoveling our driveway, but it was getting a bit old, and with the volume of snow predicted, not long after I had packed away my cargo shorts for the season, I was in no mood to play around.

Visiting Sears that day was a very good decision.

What would have made our preparation even better was if we had bought a generator as well.  We had no power for six days.  That piece of equipment is on the wish list.

Yesterday, after the final mowing for the season, and annual readying of the yard, that snow blower was readied for another season.  Tires inflated, gas, and oil added,  parked, and covered.


To be properly prepared can be, and is often taught, but for most of us, we learn from not being prepared.  I've been in that category more than once.

Being prepared extends beyond my driveway.  Our town must be prepared for the expenses, both expected, and unexpected, over the course of a year.  This year our residential tax rate is 17.95%.  Out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, we rank 45th.  That's a whole lot of cash coming in.  There was some sincere thought in preparing our expense list, and establishing our tax rate.  Yet, as pricey as it is to live here in Sturbridge, we are still expected to clear our own sidewalks of snow in front of our homes along Main Street.

You would think that the expense of clearing the sidewalks would have been included in the budget.  For the price we pay to live in Sturbridge, no one should ever have to clear the sidewalk in front of their home.  Ever.

Comes down to preparation, and in this case, I hope they have learned from past experience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Worth Sharing

I received the following email earlier today.  I am going to respond to it here.

Wally, I'm commenting here as it was the easiest place for me to write something to you. It has nothing to do with this particular subject.

I guess you've notice that the "audience participation" has decreased markedly since you've gone to a required name with a response. I think the idea was good, but I don't think anyone wants to put it out there when they really have something to say. 

Me--I look forward to comments, but it was well past the time to limit the inciting, hateful, non-productive, moron speak.  It worked.  Those with passion, or at wanting to own an opinion, still respond, but remember, not everyone that has an opinion one way or another wants to share.

I've also noticed that the last couple of ideas from you have been of the non-confrontational variety. 

Me--This is not a confrontational blog.  Read back over the years.  I never wanted to be a confrontational platform.  All I am doing is thinking, and sharing, about life.  The town in which I live is part of my thoughts, but only a part.

What's going on... When the going gets tough, the tough get fluffed? 

Me--I am a fluffy kind of guy.  Always have been.  I've been told that caring too much about things is a curse.  Guess I'm fluffy and cursed.  I like it.

I said this before to you in a personal email. You hold the keys to a very powerful tool to getting information out there regarding our town, and who's running it (is anyone?). But I feel your "thinking out loud" ideas have to be regularly published, and you have to be prepared to let everyone make comments, and rebuttals. 

Me--No.  No, I don't.  You see this is my blog, my ideas.  If someone agrees with me, so be it.  I am not writing for approval, I am writing as a catharsis, and to act as that catalyst for change when needed.  That change can be related to Sturbridge, or life in general.   This format has worked well.  Inspiration is drawn from words, and built upon by others with like ideas.  Remember, this blog is not, by any means, a political blog about Sturbridge.  Sometimes, I will write about issues when they get my back up, or I feel the passion.  I don't write as often as I once have because my life is quite full.  When I have down time, I write.  Having a full life is a blessing.

When you pick and choose the comments to post, it does nothing to help a debate. The public would rather walk than put time into a rebuttal that never sees this site due to censoring.

Me--Really?  Censorship?  Again, my blog, but I don't pick and choose.  The public is always free to walk, but enough of them stick around.  If I think a comment is designed only to inspire hate, or to cause a flame war with others then I choose not to publish it.  If a comment is so off the wall that it can not be published out of good taste, then it is deleted.  Very few comments over the years have been deleted.  Basically, I've let everyone with a half a thought post their opinion, and that was most of the problem, they only had half a thought.  Now, they just have to own those thoughts like I own mine.  Even those comment sent with a legitimate name attached have been rejected.  Sometimes hate has no problem wearing a name tag, and I have no problem clicking delete.

When I found this site, I was hopeful that it would be a place to air the public "voice". Perhaps this is all you can give, or as far as you want to stick your neck out. Sturbridge needs an independent site or a bulletin board forum where we can discuss the "monkey business" that goes on around our town.... and most likely do it with a screen name for privacy. Thanks for your time. 

Tom Hybiske

Me--Great idea.  This blog has been used by many over the years for just such a reason, but when those with other agendas began to frequent it with only their own "all-about-them" personalities to be stroked, it was something that I needed to control, and I did.  No regrets.

Tom, I  thank you for your thoughts.  Look back over the years worth of postings.  Read them.  Everything from country walks, to historic houses, to plain silliness has been written about in addition to some political issues.  This page is far from a political forum.  I agree with you about a place to air thoughts about "monkey business", but using a screen name serves no purpose other than to perpetuate the problem.  Folks will continue to sit in their underwear, typing their thoughts on their iPad, not stepping out, showing their face, and causing the change that they bitch is not happening.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Are You Ready?

Palmer will get it's casino.  The question is not, "How do you know this?", but rather, "Why not".

Location, a great plan, and local support will close the deal.   It's happening.

How will it affect the neighboring communities?  Each one will be affected a bit differently.  Traffic patterns will be affected, housing inventory will be depleted, new construction will begin, supportive infrastructure, such as bridges, and roadways, will need to be rebuilt, and built anew.  Businesses to support those thousands of new residents, and employees will need to be built.  Services will expand to the area to support the increased population.  Everything from more physicians, more day cares, more pharmacies, gas stations, super markets, shoe stores, and on and on.

House prices will increase dramatically.  What we lost during the recession will be more than regained.

There will be changes.  A lot of changes.  More changes than this area has ever seen, and change scares the bejeepers out of many folks.  Fear of what they believe will happen cloud their mind.  The changes are long overdue, and will be beneficial to all.

Then there are those that are afraid that gambling will leave people destitute.

Gambling has been around as long as man has had something to bet on.  There have been some that have gambled enough to loose everything they have.  That is gambling.  Then, there are many more that have gambled without loosing that control of their lives, and win, or loose, they move on with their lives.

The argument that excessive gambling is a disease, and we must do our part to prevent its spread is like banning cupcakes because a diabetic might eat one.  Each case must be identified, and addressed by those that are affected, and like diabetes, treatment begun.   This works well, and the cupcakes remain on the shelf at Cumberland Farms.

I don't think that there will be any long term negative affect to the surrounding towns when the casino in Palmer is approved.  Roads will be adjusted, traffic flow will be refined, schools will adapt, more stores will be built, and jobs will be available.

The last part is most important. Jobs will be available not only during construction of the casino, and afterwards at the facility, but jobs will be created to build the stores, houses, and day cares.  Jobs will be created to staff those businesses as well.

One other thing to think about is that Sturbridge should put out of its head the idea of taking over Route 20.  That road will need major improvements in the coming years in order to handle the increased traffic flow, and that is something we don't need to be paying for.