Archive for the ‘Suburbs’ Category

Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

screech2
There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

icetongs
The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.

 

 

Train to Gorillas

November 29th, 2013

femalelook

 

The quasi-suburban parts of Boston can have their own simple pleasures. Mine today came from an excursion, train time, zoo time!

Here in Hyde Park, as in Roslindale and West Roxbury, we all seem proud of being part of the city, yet very aware we can’t reasonably walk across the central fist of it as you can from Beason Hill or the South or West Ends. Standout successes like the recent new stations and skeds of the Indigo (Fairmount) Line are big deals down here.

For 10 years, we lived right downtown and then for 21, we were in JP, right below Forest Hills. Now in lower Hyde Park, it’s a trek and rigmarole to get places. I and one of my sons bike frequently (it’s quicker to get to Porter Square on two wheels than by T or God forfend by four). We have to plan. Until recently too the infrequent commuter rail just down the hill from us was also $5.50 a trip and only went as far as South Station.

I’ve been taking the zap, pow, wow improved Fairmount line regularly and grokking it. They dropped the fare to subway prices ($2 a trip) and roughly doubled the frequency. There is also a subtext. This is Thomas Michael Menino’s turf also and part of the idea was to pay attention to the Mayor and District Councilor Rob Consalvo in fostering development in Logan Square, a few hundred yards from the Fairmount stop. Moreover, personally, I got my geezer card from the MBTA, so one way is half price — a buck.

Freebie Road Trip

Today was a trial run for many who had not caught the T fever and fervor. Touted in the local weekly, in flyers at the Y and such, the notice was that today at 11:45 AM, we could gather at the Fairmount Grille and head for the 12:03 PM train. We’d get free round-trip fare.

Every station had its attraction. In particular, New Market was the big honking blue-collar South Bay shopping center with anything your little heart desires. Honestly, as much as I bike and sometimes drive around there, I reeled at the mentions of Four Corners and a short walk to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had never gotten off the Fairmount line at that stop and in my rigid mind thought it must not practical…too far.

Wrong-o.

thallcosgrove

I decided to do the zoo stop, assured a lackey would appear to lead me. Turns out, I was the only fool headed to the animals in the cold. When we gathered at the Fairmount Grille before heading to the stop, people were talking about shopping, either at South Bay or downtown. Joe Cosgrove (right), the MBTA’s director of planning and development, and Mat Thall, the interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, spoke, but did not pitch Franklin Park. We heard that the $2 fare was an experiment, for both Fairmount and as a test for other Boston neighborhood commuter lines shackled to absurdly high fares despite being in Boston city limits. We heard that the Fairmount traffic had spiked 47% since the fare change, and mostly we heard that we had to talk it up.

Clearly, I”m self-interested, but I think it’s worth it. Sure to the rail geeks, Boston has a reputation far beyond our boundaries for how hard the CDCs pushed for the Indigo Line work that has produced the improvements after almost two decades. Honestly, I can attest that we are a model for the hemisphere for the accomplishments. More personally, I want to see weekend service and trains that leave downtown for my neighborhood after the current latest, 9:40 PM. I want to be able to go to the Haymarket on Saturday, thank you very much. Let’s be a real city.

Gorillas, No Giraffes

My hick mindset had the zoo out of range. Despite my frequent bike rides down Columbia, up Blue Hill, through Franklin Park, past Forest Hills, the length of Mass Ave and all of the convoluted Washington Street in various neighborhoods, I fell into the Geneva Ave/Four Corners is distant gang turf. I was ignorant.

Sure enough, I ended up being the only bozo getting off the train at Four Corners. At Fairmount, the conductor was amused and amusing. He was the veritable gang of us, highly unusual for 12:03 PM on a weekday and did a great double take as he greeted us. I was literally the only Four Corners stop requester and the only one who exited for the zoo instead of consumer/Black Friday choices.

fairmounttoot

As promised, a pleasant young man, Hanad, was there to shepherd me. Turns out, as I was the only one, he didn’t even bother putting me through the half-priced-day gate. I got in for free. So there, shoppers.

Sure, a cold November day is not primo. Many animals are not the slightest bit interested in playing the game below 65F. Even my favorite beasts of all, giraffes, were bunked or huddling inside. No tigers, a single lion, no roos, maybe a third of the areas and cages said exhibit not open. Harrumph, as the expression goes.

Yet there was plenty to see. The parents with kids in strollers and racing ahead of them squealing about dark jungles, warthogs, gorillas and such had a great time. So did I.

(I’ll post some pix on Flickr and update with a link here.)

For the logistics minded, the walk from the Four Corners stop to the zoo entrance is eight minutes. It’s exit the station to the South onto Washington, go four short blocks, then seven short blocks up Columbia to the zoo. It’s a devil of a lot easier and closer than by Orange line or some wacky bus combo.If you want to start from South Station or Hyde Park, this is it. It’s in my mental maps.

We can be as provincial as Manhattanites and a question I heard in the Fairmoumt Grille and on the platform was what can you see in late November at a zoo? Lots, sports fans. The Tropical Forest was fully stocked; the great apes, warthogs, pygmy hippo, wacky carrion birds and more are crowd pleasers.  Nearby in Bird’s World, ibises and lurid finches and parakeets play, while the huge green keas wail and shriek.

A male lion showed off endlessly and on and on and on.

I earned bragging rights for going to the cold-weather zoo, doubled by taking the commuter rail.

Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013

costocobooze

Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.

 

Soft Opening, Solid Thrill

June 5th, 2013

grillebarFive of us at one table and two at another were among the fairly joyous Hyde Park sorts who noticed the Fairmount Grille’s Facebook announcement of a soft opening last evening. Only a banner hung outside the 81 Fairmount Ave site in Logan Square called passersby not to pass by.

As someone who really liked the previous Townsend’s in that spot for its four years, I’ve been figuratively pacing. Townsend’s shut last winter, but the owners passively obstructed the transition. For some reason, they held liquor license, which of course is essential for a bar/restaurant. The arcane, anachronistic Boston licensing does not allow even nominally for two licenses to be affiliated with one address. So the old license had to be revoked before another one could apply.

Perhaps more parochial and old-fashioned, there really aren’t enough liquor licenses to go around. Trot to any other sizable city and see that they are not afraid that something awful just might happen if there are two bars in a block. Bacchanals nightly! Anti-Puritan indulgence!

Regardless, with the Clarke’s in South Station becoming yet another drug store, that license migrated as Townsend’s went back into the treasure chest.

It seems Christopher Rassias got the restaurant and booze licenses and set up shop. He’d worked for numerous other such joints in town, mostly with Glynn Hospitality (Black Rose, Purple Shamrock and more). He told me last evening he was really ready to start his own.

Timing is superb. The popular The Hyde a little over a block away closed suddenly two weeks ago. The owner supposed retreated to Maine. Compounded with Townsend’s closing, that left a considerable hole in Logan Square. Rincon is across the street from the Hyde. Its limited Caribbean menu is good (particularly its goat stews), but it doesn’t have a full bar and seems to thrive with its DJ/dancing nights and its lunches. Around the corner on River Street, Master McGrath’s is a formidable, drink-all-day beer joint that sells a little bar food, and El Rancho has OK West Indies fare.  A little farther on Maple, Las Vegas Seafood (eh?) has good Haitian food, but is really a take-out joint.

fgrille

Logan and Cleary Squares didn’t have a good sit-down with booze…you know, a place with adult choices.

Same and different

So, The Fairmount Grille is likely to get business from the Townsend’s loyalists. The food is similar, priced about the same. The wine and beer selections are also reasonable in variety and cost. It was super to see the bar (in the same location) with stools shined again by singles and couples sliding into place.

All of that written, the soft opening had its predictable glitches. Moreover, some details are still unattended to by Rassias and his minions.

Perhaps most obvious, in addition to no marquee or sign visible driving on Fairmount Ave., the web presence really isn’t present. The Facebook page is OK. However, it doesn’t have enough info. The restaurant website it displays is not only incorrect (thefairmountgrille.com instead of fairmountgrille.com), but the real site is not active. You can’t see the menus and anything else. Rassais told a customer yesterday within my hearing that would be fixed real soon.

At our table we ordered a cocktail, some wines by the glass, a soda, and an ale. We had an appetizer touchstone for Boston eateries, fried calimari, and the house burger, fish and chips, Cobb salad, and stuffed poblanos. Our chums at the other table tried duck wings, a steak and something I’m blanking on with a couple of beers.

Everyone liked the food. I think the winner was Sara with the vegetarian poblanos. They were big, just spicy enough and not cooked to mushiness as so many restaurants pre-prepare them. Objections were real but minor. For example, those who put the house butter on the excellent (Fornax?) bread didn’t care for the stuff with some kind of sugar or homey mixed in unrequested. Also, Tallon spoiled customers with his great, regularly changing range of mussel dishes. For those of us who like such, that was a big selling point, but not represented here.

Beers were in the $5 to $7 range. They weren’t as varied as Townsend’s, where Michael Tallon took great pride in a large number of superb ales on tap.  Still, there were nothing beers like Bud, augmented by a dozen or so good ales and beers, with malty, hoppy and Belgian sorts to satisfy almost anyone with dinner. It was not a selection for a road trip to taste.

Wines by the glass were similar. Reasonably priced at $7 to $11, No one was going to feel ripped off. The selection of 8 or 10 whites and reds each had a range for most tastes. They didn’t have everything in stock yet. On a clumsy sidenote, I knocked over a glass shortly after the waiter arrived. He brought us cloths to clean up my spill but still charged for the replacement. It was my boner, but a savvy restaurant would not have charged, particularly with new customers.

At the end, one of our party wanted to split the bill and pay her part with her credit card. The staff and even the cash register troubleshooter who apparently wanted to be there for the first night could not make it work. A few minutes headed to a half hour, even with a couple of my visits to the register hallway. They didn’t get it working and eventually, I had them put everything on my card.

We also peeked as several other customers to see what shape the small back patio was in, as it was popular in its Townsend’s life. As my wife put it, right now it looks like the inside of our garage, with coiled hoses and such cluttering the space.

We’ll go back and look forward to trying their brunches when they get that together. Rassais seems open to comments and criticisms. I’ll see if I can get some more, better ales, for example. He seems already to know he has to get someone to give him a web presence.

Train Rant

One more notable aspect of the Logan and Cleary Square biz life. The inane MBTA zoning lets locals travel to West Medford or Malden or Chelsea for the subway fare ($2 with a Charlie Card). Down here, but in Boston city limits instead, the fare is $5.50 for Hyde Park, Readville and Fairmount. The Indigo Line proposal requests dropping the zone from 1 to 1A to put it at those suburban rates. That would definitely encourage business traffic, including to local restaurants.

Get your act together, MBTA. Let logic rule here!

Hipster Skins

September 2nd, 2012

OK, I shouldn’t be surprised. Yet I am. Biking out through Dedham, Wellesley, Newton and back into Boston neighborhoods, I did not see a single one of the hundred or so cyclists who did not have a pricey jersey.

I felt like such an old hippie and I guess I am. I buy my tires, tubes, tools and gear from the biking monster Nashbar/Performance/Bikes Direct. I know those designer jerseys are $100 to $150 per, replete with the logo of the beer or such you are pandering to advertise. I own a few of those, because they were two-thirds or three-quarters off. My favorite in the drawer is Mickey Mouse; it is garish and gives me an advantage cycling with inattentive drivers.

Today though, I rolled out in an orange tee-shirt with a skeleton on a cycle. It was a memento from a Tour de Graves in Boston when Ray Flynn way mayor and before he became a drunken conservative ambassador to the Vatican. I was an old guy with a T instead of a stylish fashion statement.

I know in my heart of hearts and on the occasional radar machines on the roadside that I can skunk the 20, 30, 40 and 50 somethings in their high-end jerseys and multi-thousand-dollar bikes. Instead, I find myself glad to see so many cyclists out of Labor Day weekend. In Wellesley in particular, many dozens of deuces and quartets plied their Spandex-contracted flab on public byways. Bless their hearts.

Worthy and workman-like they are. I can’t begrudge them their need for attention. Let us allow they are exceptional, privileged folk who might otherwise stress a lawn chair and instead are trying to be simultaneously fit and pretty.

That’s OK to us journeyman cyclists. The pretty pretenders server their purpose. The more humans on cycles the better. Motorists slowly, every so slowly register, “Bicycles. Must share road.”

Sorry, hipsters and fogies, though. The really scrawny and big-bellied in their high-end jerseys are laughable. If you’d been a jock in your teens and gotten the hormones coursing, you wouldn’t be a flab bowl or a skinny-jeans joke now.

Let’s all ride every weekend…hell, every day.

Free-dumb on the 4th

July 5th, 2012

Visiting #1 Son and DIL around Independence Day of course has been full of obvious and subtle examples of freedom and restrictions. While the Fourth is ostensibly about casting off colonialism and occupation, we boomers go far beyond that.

Growing up with WWII parents and WWI grandparents, we are filled with grand and even naive ideals of cultural and personal. Those were reinforced by that newish TV, movies and all around us. American exceptionalism and frontier concept of freedom characterize and drive us.

My curmudgeonly comment today includes exasperation with 20 and 30 somethings who would try to excuse ignorance and lack of analysis saying they weren’t born when this or that occurred. That shows only a lack of knowledge, curiosity and perhaps intellect. The world did not begin spinning when you nor I arrived.

With my hoary head, I noticed our airport experiences and the heavy symbolism of a trio to Alcatraz.

For the former, recap it with removing shoes and belts keeps no one safe. We are both delusional and sheeplike pretending otherwise. Chants about sacrificing for safety or even that the mere theater of arbitrary and ineffectual TSA regulations and procedure dissuaded terrorists from plying their hellish aims are sad and un-American.

More to the metaphor on the Fourth, ferrying to the Alcatraz tour was an object lesson in freedom as well. Ceding all liberty as punishment for crimes is an Independence Day meditation.

We coursed through our day and night until early on the Fifth, interacting with other revelers, residents, citizen, cops barkeeps and such. We experienced the relative liberty boomers idealize in most places. We did show our papers – train, and boat tickets, credit cards and such on demand. Some instances were silly overkill, like three times each in the snaking, cordoned ferry line for The Rock, but in the main, we perked and went at will.

As a nation, we definitely have freely ceded too many liberties to feed our collective post-9/11 insecurities. We’re not likely going to regain those soon or easily.

Blue Bloods Birthing Babies

June 17th, 2012

Amusement and satisfaction coexist in a big shot’s indicator in today’s NYTmidwives are becoming must-have status symbols for rich ladies.  Reminiscent of the FT‘s splendidly absurd How to Spend It insert magazines, we learn that the likes of supermodels in NYC and Boston use “the best” midwives now instead of OBs to deliver their princelings and princesses.

Having long been big on midwives, I see this as a likely advance, one that will percolate into the populace. First will be the celebrity imitators, who can do more than copy the pretentiously unusual baby names. The birth method may well open up, increasing demand for more midwives and birthing facilities.

This is personal with us. Our three were all born with midwives, beginning in 1979. I know from both experience and reading that prenatal care is vastly superior with midwives over OBs/nurses and that outcomes are superior, in no small part because of preparation and monitoring. Moreover, numerous moms beyond my wife have spoken of how much better the births went without being strapped down and rushed and drugged and cut open and such. Having a couple of women with you throughout (not even including the serving hubby or beau or equivalent) is an order of magnitude better than the standard hospital routine.

We had to work to get access to midwifery services. Actually the easiest was the first, at the Maternity Center in Manhattan’s Yorktown. They’d been delivering babies and training midwives (and fighting jealous OB groups) since the Depression. They were in a gorgeous, commodious former mansion, to which we made a weekly pilgrimage (always followed with a pregnant-lady satisfying meal at a local restaurant).

There were lots of measurements, stringent rules for nutrition and exercise, and correcting or preventing problems that would preclude a non-hospital delivery. The OBs who worked with the center were of course midwife friendly. They were wont to say on the rare times we saw one to listen to the midwives, to rely on their estimates of delivery date, and to practice the breathing and other techniques we’d use in delivery.

One morning, I awoke to see my wife in the rocking chair saying, “It’s time.” When the contractions were close enough together, we took a taxi from the Village and were off to the arena, or at least the birthing room in the basement. The first one made it some work, as in back labor. He needed to go from sideways to head down, which took the better part of a day. He was healthy with a high Apgar score. My only shocks came at how slick he was when I caught him and at the official New York moment of birth, which was when I cut the umbilical cord. That was one tough tube.

A few hours later, we were in a cab headed to our apartment with our son, following the requisite OB visit to certify his health. It was great to nest with the baby the same day.

Two and three were born around here, although we had to chase the midwives.  What was then the Harvard Community Health Plan only offered a midwife center for Eastern Massachusetts on the grounds of the Beverly Hospital. That’s a haul from Boston’s Jamaica Plain. We took our mandated birthing refreshers more locally but drove to the North Shore for the birth. We got there but didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

We were both more relaxed for the second act and the labor was considerably shorter.  I caught son two too. As with the first, we headed home the same day and were a family, now of four, at home.

The third fell afoul of bureaucracy and because-we-can behavior of a teaching hospital, but still produced a healthy son. By this time, the HCHP shunted us to a midwife area at Beth Israel Hospital. That was fortunate geographically, as this labor was under an hour. We managed to drive there from a few miles away and toss the keys to the valet. I was well aware of the fast progress, but the midwives and nurse didn’t seem to get it. In the room, I immediately washed up and put on gloves. While the trio was across the room chatting, I caught son number three without them.

Unfortunately, BI being a teaching hospital, the OB on call insisted that our son’s heart rate was too slow. He also didn’t get the usual squeezing workout of delivery, so he was a bit purple. The doc had him put in a neonatal ICU. We were not pleased and this two brothers were concerned when they visited and put on yellow scrubs to see him under Plexiglas with tubes. When our own pediatrician was available nearly two days later, he came by, checked him over, pronounced him very healthy and with a heart like a future athlete and sent us all home.

I can go on about the glories of midwife preparation and delivery. I have been known to do just that. If it takes the status-seeking super-rich to spread this gospel, that’s OK by me.

Cold, Lonely New England Nights

April 8th, 2012

The old cliché of chilly Northern nights was of a Mainer or Vermonter bored in the long, cold winters, making friends with a bottle of booze. Sure enough, like another cold clime, Russia, up here folk, particularly menfolk, are prone to alcoholism.

I got a new one tonight as I shopped the dowdy, plaid-favoring Vermont Country Store. We’d been there. My late mother-in-law, herself an Indiana hick, really enjoyed it and fell into nostalgic paroxysms there. Among the old timey treasures we bought and used regularly was its seemingly unique over-the-headboard lamp. We consider that the best in-bed reading choice and have been dismayed that after many years, its plastic shade lining is shedding chunks of off-white.

Well, they still have them and I ordered a replacement.

While I was at it, I checked the sale items (yawn). Then I looked at their left menu and top tabs. Nothing much there, but I checked Health & Beauty to see if there are country cures of amusement. On that pull-down is — What?! — Sexual Wellness.

Well, topple my stone fence. That’s a page of dildos.

Actually, it’s a page of almost entirely powered vibrators. There’s a yeast-infection soap and quite literally a douche bag. The page features 10 highly colorful sex toys for women.

Here’s one example. This is a WordPress blog. I hesitated for a moment before clicking on the Upload choice to Insert Into Post. Insert, indeed.

The various aids include the tiny and brown BonBon Massager (“Better than chocolate…Petite and Discreet…”), the one shown promising “Pinpoint Accuracy,” another “Serves Two Pleasure Points at Once,” and another anatomically realistic except for the lavender color “Feels Lifelike for Greater Pleasure.”

This clearly is my problem. Sudden images of villages of country women thrashing in pastel joy doesn’t jibe with butter churns and flannel nightgowns.

Of course, there’s no reason the Vermont Country Store shouldn’t include sex aids along with its home furnishings and horehound drops. I had just never run across this page. I had a pretty staid image of the store’s inventory.

Have at it. Nights are long, dark and cold up there.

Greenway within Grasp

August 31st, 2011

Hail to the many who have worked for the better part of two decades for a Neponset River Greenway! Within two years, the biggest missing piece will be complete. Citizens, engineering sorts and bureaucrats alike have ‘er done.

I joined what looked like a little over a hundred in the Foley Senior Center on River St. in Mattapan last evening for another quenching trip to the well. You can grab the straight coverage and a link to the presentation at the Dorchester Reporter. You can also search at that site for excellent past coverage on this trail.

The short of it is that after many meetings and laborious compiling of complaints, suggestions and comments of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester abutters (and numerous whiners, loudmouths and cheerleaders), the final plan looks like a winner. A large majority apparently love it. It moves from conceptual drawings to engineer docs that can aid in getting the federal money for the project as well as giving the nitpickers and Myers-Briggs S types something to hold and come to terms with happening. They are now figuring that completion of a link from Central Avenue into Mattapan Square for a ped/bike path will happen by the fall of 2013.greenplan

Click the pic for a closer view or go to the presentation for it and the earlier schemes. Key aspects are that it starts at the existing path at Central Avenue, runs between the trolley path and river, crossing from Milton to Mattapan on a new bridge by the Ryan Playground, then curves on the north of the river to a new ped/bike bridge over and around the trolley terminus and into Mattapan Square.

This came after five previous plans. After the public meetings and private comments, which the presentation recaps in concepts and numbers, the latest plan seemed to placate nearly everyone.

I came for the details, but left with a felt sense of the democratic skills involved, particularly the the DCR folk in managing a prickly, often nasty process. While he was quick and frequent to spread credit and praise, the diplomat in chief seems to be Jack Murray.

The DCR Deputy Commissioner for Park Operations is unfazed by the hostile, NIMBY and unfair-to-me types. Even at this largely jovial celebration, several dissatisfied folk spoke out and up, without rattling Murray. He’s been though a couple years of rough democracy on this and kept his cool and his smile.

In fact, several of the pols who attended and chimed in their praises (Sen. Brian Joyce and Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes) called the process out for its amazing transparency, flexibility, and outreach. There was passing mention of the contention involved from the beginning, and nothing but kudos for a thoroughly open process — perhaps an inspiration for the larger government, ask I?

Murray was also charmingly coy about the MBTA. It refused to allow an at-grade crossing for the trail, leading to among other expensive problems, a ped/bike bridge at Mattpan station. Murray just smiled and said “We love our sister agencies.”

So it’s worth nothing the residual complaints that bring up what the DCR and the many others involved overcame. Last evening lacked the whiffs of racism and classism noted in articles about earlier public meetings. A few of those seemed to mirror the fears that kept Weston from allowing an extension of the Minuteman path. There was only one of those last night, and of course Murray handled that well.

Despite the round praise for the proposal, one resident still wanted her say, there and in some private meeting. It was a wonder to hear. She said the trolley runs behind her house and the bike path will. Her concern was that cyclists would jump the fence and do something nefarious on her property – to her possessions or daughter. Hearing that it doesn’t happen, not in Boston or Lexington, and that bike paths add light and witnesses, making areas safer was not enough. She didn’t seem to notice that she undercut her argument by saying she feared the same of the nearby trolley. The fact that this has never been a problem did not deter her. She wanted some kind of meeting with state officials and not a public one. Meh.

Toward the end of the question-and-comment period another resident tried the it’s-only-a-start ploy. He’s surely sadly mistaken if he supposes something with this much pubic input and accommodation awaits his brilliant revisions and a restart.

Otherwise, the niggles were indeed niggling. People were pleased at the result and particularly at having been listened to. They could see their suggestions, complaints and fine-tuning before them. The Neponset River Tail Phase II is rolling right along.

Deacons Who Deviled

August 28th, 2011

Churches are scary places with scary people. Having observed or been involved in the polity and politics of them from childhood into membership and onto chairing committees and boards, I have long outgrown the idealized world of Godly sorts doing good.

morsskulls

None of my direct experiences equals the wanton assault on Canton, Massachusetts’ first minister, Joseph Mors (a.k.a Morse).

Biking South of Boston, I passed the main Canton cemetery many times. I toured once, finding the really old stuff on the far Southwestern corner next to the UU church. The more recent focused trip included enjoying the 18th and 19th Century New England iconography. One that caught me was Mors’ three-skulled stone.

It turns out that with good reason there’s considerable history available on the late minister. His is a tale of caution for even modern clerics.

Consider his epitaph, including:

Within this silent grave here now doth ly,
Him that is gone unto Eternity.
Who when he liv’d was by good men respected,
Although by others was perhaps rejected;
Yet that done hinder his Triumphing Joy,
With saints above where nought can him away.

I couldn’t leave that. Thanks to long-dead local historians and Google’s digital books project, I didn’t have to.

As background, what is now Canton was in terms of religious governance part of the colonial town of Dorchester, a.k.a. New Grant or Dorchester Village. Mors was the first minister there, for a decade from 1707. Subsequently, this became part of Stoughton, which seemed promiscuously to hand it pieces of itself to neighboring towns. The area where the town of Canton, including its main cemetery are, broke off in 1797, with what seems like whimsical name, suggested by macher Elijah Dunbar, on the approximate belief that it was exactly half way around the globe from the Chinese province of that name.

What Could Go Wrong?

Ministerial careers were much less linear in the colony than today or for that matter in England at the time. While Mors, born 1671 graduated from Unitarian founded Harvard, he started as his education suited, as a teacher. In Providence, he and another teacher, Amity Harris, wed. They moved to Watertown, MA, where he gathered a congregation as well as taught. The locals built a meeting house, but never got the church organized. Then in 1707, he got an offer from the future Canton, then New Village, to settle and preach.

All started out swell, and in fact, from other sources, it turns out that The Morses were both die-hard teachers and pretty open minded. The local Natives, the Ponkapoags, welcomed both of them.  They “were well loved by the Ponkapoag Indians, who appreciated the couple’s efforts to educate them and bring them spiritual comfort.”

Life was rough for all and this was a period of various epidemics as well. The Morses gave religious and school instruction, and Joseph ministered to the Ponkapoag families.

Yet, it was the demon deacons, and not the Wake Forest ones, that undid Mors.

As the astonishingly and fastidiously detailed Huntoon history of the town put it, “In those days the office of deacon was regarded with very great respect…” The ones at First Parish were maybe worse than others, it turns out, bringing charges of “false doctrine” against the new minister. “The deacons considered themselves as umpires on matters of doctrine, and, letting the greater part of the sermon slip by without interest, were on the alert to detect and remember the slightest dogmatical inaccuracy or unguarded expression which in the hurry of composition might have escaped from the pen of the minister.”

Whole Town Watching

Snidely I must note that had the locals and deacons lived in our days of sports teams and cable TV, they might have had more if not better concerns and distractions. As it happened, when the deacons were charging Mors, it was a big deal.

“This charge, preferred by one of such high standing and authority in the church, was a cause of much alarm and difficulty. Meetings and fasts were held concerning it, and the communion was suspected for more than six months. Finally, the church voted that they were not dissatisfied with the pastor on account of the allegations brought against him.”

The deacon then backed down. The minister was cleared. From our distance of three centuries, we’d suppose Mors won and was untouchable. Ha!

“The disaffected only awaited an opportunity for a fresh attack; nor was it long before an occasion offered itself.” Upon the request of local Elhanan Lyon “who seems to have been a thorn in the flesh both th Mr. Morse and his successor” was on a committee of the General Court (legislature) and called Mors before that committee with accusations.

This in turn was like a Bill Clinton thing. If you have the interest, read all of the pages of this section of Huntoon for the nasty details. The short of it is that Mors was tripped up on alleged lies. Lying being flat out for ministers, at least at the time.

The underlying issue is that some unnamed person claimed that Mors got tipsy at a dinner party in Canton. Then, when grilled about it, he said he did not overindulge. Hence, those after his scalp, and likely still angry about being rebuffed in the earlier vote of confidence, said he was lying about it.

So the minister was twice tainted, alleged to be a sot and liar. The Dorchester Village council met on the issue a few times. When it came to a vote, by a single one, he was judged unworthy of continuing his ministry.

To little effect, another council meeting of nine churches censured everyone, “requiring them to acknowledge their faults to each other.” By this time, Mors was dead in the pulpit, figuratively. The lasting stain on his was that, like Clinton, he was permanently known as a liar, or as one in the council wrote later “guilty of designed false speaking.”

Again from 304 years distance, it’s impossible to know whether in the mind of the locals it was worse that Mors might have had a glass too many or that he refused to admit it.

He lived out his remain few years in the town, but not as a minister. He had an offer to preach elsewhere, but did not accept it.

Church Traps

I know a lot of  clerics, all of whom have political tales. They tend to note there’re folk in every congregation looking for trouble. They also say congregants and sometimes staff members can be willing to seduce them. Both perils could get a cleric shipped away.

I can recall the first church feud I was aware of when I was 8 or 9. In a large Methodist church in the South, the minister’s wife ran the church in many ways. She disliked the excellent organist/choir director, perhaps because he was very popular among adults and kids alike. She was determined to oust him, which came with time constraints in those days. Methodists were in a given church for only three years before reassignment, in the tradition of the circuit riding John Wesley.

She tried to stir up animosity and got only a little traction in accusing him of this or that. Eventually though, he got real tired of her sniping and attitude. He got an offer to tour Europe as an organist and snapped it up, going on to relative fame.

In other churches, I’ve seen worse. Consider the downtown Boston UU one where I revivified the personnel committee and then ran the board for a couple of years. Two key staff members, each with her own constituency went head to head and rumor to rumor in competition for resources and congregant affection. Staff meetings got so contentious, replete with shouting and tears, that the senior minister stopped holding them and met with one member at a time.

Neither would give a millimeter and each said she was the primary reason congregants came…and pledged. The implication was if they left, the church would collapse. It was ugly, but at least no one was trying to ruin the career of the senior minister.

The devilish duo were so intractable that I finally accepted that they had to go. I convinced one that she wasn’t ever going to find what she wanted there and to look for a larger, better paying church. The other had included me on her hit list and tried to get me removed from both committees.Instead. my personnel report on the problems convinced her that she too was not going to have her way. She and her rich hubby left in a huff, moving from Boston, and prophecizing doom for the church without her talents and his money. Nothing like that occurred and she was easily replaced with a rational and pleasant person.

My minister chums note that many who work at or attend churches are both emotionally needy and feel that being there gives them righteousness points. Regardless of the motives, the Godly places can be ungodly nasty.