Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thunder boomers

The second round of thunderstorms of the evening just rolled through, and I have to confess I was a tad nervous when the sky went all yellow like that.

Although my experiences with wild weather in Michigan led me to believe otherwise, a quick check on line tells me that the yellow sky means the sun is trying to break through the cloud cover.

Rightly or wrongly, I always associate a yellow sky with a tornado warning (frequent events in late July and August in Michigan).

When I was a kid (in Michigan), we used to have tornado drills in school. Everyone had an assigned duty (opening windows is the only one I can think of) - and then we huddled under our flimsy desks.

I seem to remember huddling in the hallway at some point as well, during an actual tornado warning.

I can still see lighting flashing intermittently, off to the east (where the ocean is).

I believe they have changed this procedure.

Blogging mania

That last post, about Mad Martha's, was my 500th post. Which just goes to show how crazed I truly am!

Thanks, everyone!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mad Martha's

My sister and I went to Mad Martha's for lunch today.

I love Mad Martha's. Try it out, if you get the chance. My sister particularly enjoyed her mango chutney chicken salad wrap (she let me take a bite, and it was yummy - five stars).

We were both so hungry that we ordered crab cakes (***) and homemade corned beef hash (*****) for starters, she got the sandwich and I got my usual Salmon Getaway (2 poached eggs, smoked salmon and horseradish sauce on a Portuguese muffin-type bread).

Then we wanted dessert, and although they don't technically offer dessert, Brad (the owner and cook) came up with some vanilla ice cream with banana and strawberry slices and chocolate sauce for us.

How's that for service?

Forget scholarships, give us some surveillance!

Well, while we desperately seek sponsorships for fireworks and riverside concerts and school books, the City of Flint is desperately seeking sponsorships for - surveillance cameras!

Yes, folks, read all about it here on Gordie Young's blog, Flint Expatriates. I love that title, "This invasion of privacy brought to you by ..."

According to someone who commented on Young's post, the story was on NPR this morning. And it's on the AP wire, so more derisive laughter is coming Flint's way, I'm afraid.

First 'cracking down' on sagging pants and now this. *sigh*

Flint, a city only its mother could really love. Too bad she's no longer around.

Another fight with Gloucester?

Well, last year we had the 'epic,' but short-lived, battle over our flagpole/their historic boom.

For those of you not familiar with the situation, here's the short version:

Newburyport 70 years ago acquired an old ship's boom to use as a flagpole outside its downtown fire station. Gloucester's historical element decided last year that since the boom came from a Gloucester schooner, they needed it back.

From the Feb. 6, 2007 story in the Daily News: At least two Gloucesterites - Mayor John Bell and Geoffrey Richon, president of the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center - want the boom since it is the last remaining piece of one of the city's most famous schooners.

Bell is no longer the mayor of Gloucester and the issue seems to have died in committee, so to speak. (By the way, I can't find the story that ran in the Gloucester Times, sister paper to the DN, and also by Stephen Tait, with the hilarious headline: Gloucester wants its boom back.)

So now, at least one person in Gloucester thinks that Newburyport should not be the home for a satellite facility of the New England Aquarium. In this Op-Ed piece that ran in yesterday's Boston Globe, one Susan Pollack speaks to why, in her opinion, Gloucester should be the location, not Newburyport, for the facility.

Since I snitched this 'lead' from a comment on Tom Salemi's blog, I won't go into it much. But he hasn't posted about it, so I felt free ...

Gloucester need not follow in the footsteps of Nantucket, Newburyport, Newport, and so many other New England seacoast communities that have ceded their economies to second homes and tourism, she writes.

Unfortunately, this is the tag that Newburyport carries. As I believe I mentioned before, someone recently said that she sees our fair city as a "tourist trap" - and coincidentally, the comment was made in Gloucester (although she does not live there)!

What are we willing to give up in the contest between preservation and development, as she says Gloucester's future is characterized? I think it's fair to say that's what is going on here, as well as there.

Hell, I earlier wrote about possibly giving up the fireworks in the name of development.

Gloucester, btw, is pretty much still a serious seaport city.

(To which I can attest, as our sailboat was nearly rammed by a huge fishing boat in Gloucester Harbor, while I was at the tiller: "Watch out for Princess Diana," said my brother-in-law, the real sailor in the group; "Huh?" said I. The boat bearing down on us was the Princess Diana. Yikes, it was HUGE.)

Newburyport's seaportness is confined to half a dozen fishing boats of moderate size and a bunch of pleasure boats. I don't mind the latter - they look really nice bobbing in the river.

Well, I don't know what will happen, how far along the decision-making path the NE Aquarium is, or where such a structure would go that would include a decent parking lot, or nearby parking, or anything along those lines.

I'm having lunch today with my sister, who lives in Gloucester, and will solicit some thoughts from her.

Can it be? Greenheads gone already?

Seems like just yesterday I was swatting greenheads left and right, on my enclosed porch.

I have seen nary a green head amongst the flies buzzing about for the last few days. It could be all the rain swept the larvae away - whatever, it's great (although I have to say again, I hardly saw any outside the house).

Now I await the return of the swallows. Last year they gave an impressive showing out here, swooping and swirling around the cottage. Just a couple more weeks and they should be here. I was following them around Old Point Road like a star-struck groupie, trying to get a decent photo (I failed, but I put a couple on here anyway).

It's worth the trip out to the island to witness the awesome nature of nature. Read another person's perspective here.

What the ...?

Oh, boy, here's a good one. I had not heard about this. Tucked away in this DN story about auctioning off the downtown lighthouse for fireworks viewing on Saturday, I read this:

"This is truly unique, especially in light that there may not be any fireworks next Yankee Homecoming," (Yankee Homecoming fireworks chairman Jason) Lacroix said. "With the change to the Towle building parking lot, there is not enough of a safety zone and there is no other place in Newburyport we could have them."

No more fireworks at Yankee Homecoming, or at any other time?

The fireworks have for years been set off at Cashman Park, which is ... a big area (can't see anywhere that says how big) on the Merrimack River with lots of parking lot for the boat launching facility. The Towle Building abuts the park and the (currently empty except for parking lot) space between the building and the river is going to be developed into condo buildings.

I hope that having a good, close-up view of the city's fireworks displays is not among the selling points for the condos!

Gee whiz

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Our own Private Idaho

I am beginning to shift in my opinion about the waterfront. No, I'm not jockeying for that ethereal official blogger position that never materialized (unless Salemi pulled a fast one) - I mean the NRA lots.

In doing research for the post about 'free' parking, I saw plenty of images of parking garages. It was not the garages themselves that caught my attention, it was the slimy, oily residue left in each parking space in the garages.

In two places in each spot (one for pulling into a space forwards and one for people who backed in).

I know this has been an issue at our waterfront lots - leaky cars.

In any case, I would hate to see that whole area paved over, even if "paving the parking lot leads to paradise." (That quote, or something very like it, has been attributed to our mayor, although I've never heard him say it.)

I just read (here) that one pint of oil can contaminate an area larger than a football field. Considering that cars spend, on average, 95% of the time parked somewhere or the other, that's rather alarming.

Paving does not stop this, by the way. It just runs off with the rain, usually right into the nearest storm drain.

Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil each year into our waters. (I got that here.)

So if the choice is ONLY between park and parking, I guess I'd have to lean towards park at this point (Good God, she's reversed her opinion!).

But I still think there has to be an alternative. It's probably too much to expect that people will keep their cars in good repair and get leaks fixed, so .... *gulp*

Maybe we can make our own little Greenfield Village (with the focus on ships, not cars, of course). This is a very popular destination in Detroit.

Is Manny a menace?

I was watching last night's Red Sox game, and of course a lot of the talk was about Manny.

Manny being Manny, Manny being unhappy, the Red Sox ownership being unhappy - and I was thinking, you can get away with a lot if you're good at your job. That is, if you believe that Manny is/was pulling some shenanigans (I know my knee hurts a lot and nothing is structurally wrong, having had previous knee surgery to correct what was structurally wrong).

This from Dan Shaughnessy, in yesterday's Globe:

[Red Sox General Manager Theo] Epstein has wanted to get rid of Manny since the end of the 2003 season. Now he has the hammer. He has an owner who has seen the light. Manny insulted John Henry during the All-Star break and the once-naive billionaire is now on board with his baseball operations people. They all love Manny's presence in the cleanup spot, but the nonsense has reached a point where it's just not worth it anymore.

Really? It's just not worth it anymore? If one or two other members of the team had matched Manny's performance last night, the Red Sox might have won the game. He went 2 for 3, with 3 RBI, in the 7-5 loss.

I also ponder the multi-million dollar deal that brought pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Sox. He gave up 6 runs in one inning (something not uncommon in him)! Is that worth it anymore?

Not being the manager, the general manager, or the owners, I can't say when enough is enough. But I can say that bad trades seem to be the particular forte' of the Red Sox.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The dog that didn't bark in the night

The AP pulled the trigger on CNN by being the first to announce that conservative columnist/television commentator Robert Novak has a brain tumor.

Novak was a staple on CNN's "Crossfire" for years. Oops, I guess he left to go over to Fox News. Don't you hate when that happens?

In fact, I still don't see the news on the home page, although they do report that actor Kelsey Grammer has been hospitalized after feeling faint and that singer Amy Winehouse was rushed to the hospital today.

Last week, Novak was in big trouble - and I mean BIG trouble - for hitting a man with his car and carrying on driving until a bicyclist stopped him. I saw some video of his explanation, which was basically, "I didn't know I hit him."

The bicyclist described the person who was hit as being "sort of splayed onto his windshield."

Well, after apparently paying his HUGE fine of $50 for hitting someone and taking off, the 77-year-old took off for Cape Cod, where he fell ill (according to the AP report) and was rushed to Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Although the reporters following Novak to his car after the "incident" last week kept asking him if he felt alright before hitting the man, I guess no one else saw any red flags.

I thought he was just being a scumbag, the poor guy. Now I feel sorry for him.

The real cost of 'free' parking?

I was just downtown and holy moly! There are a lot of people roaming about. I hope the merchants (the ones that are open on Monday, that is) are reaping the benefits.

So I noticed the NRA parking lots and the booths and the attendants. And although I don't think either lot was full, there were plenty of people driving around looking for 'free' parking.

But is it really free?

The following is from the 2005 book "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald C. Shoup, a professor at UCLA:

The cost of parking is hidden in higher prices for everything else. In addition to the monetary cost, which is enormous, free parking imposes many other hidden costs on cities, the economy, and the environment.

Residents pay for parking through higher prices for housing. Businesses pay for parking through higher rents for their premises. Shoppers pay for parking through higher prices for everything they buy. We don’t pay for parking in our role as motorists, but in all our other roles—as consumers, investors, workers, residents, and taxpayers—we pay a high price. Even people who don’t own a car have to pay for “free” parking.

Free parking also encourages people to drive rather than, say, ride a bike or walk.

Newburyport has 'free' parking for varying amounts of time around its downtown. There are no parking meters; those were removed in the mid-60's by former Mayor Byron Matthews, who wanted to encourage people to come to Newburyport over a shopping mall.

What does a shopping center have that the city didn't? Free parking! Matthews pointed out in an interview a few months ago.

It was not a bad idea at the time, and most likely it worked to some extent (free parking is one reason my friends and I would come up here to shop over some other place outside Boston).

But 40 years later, the national average value of a "free" parking space was $1,000 annually, according to the author of this review of Shoup's book on

I guess that means that our city is subsidizing our "free" parking to the tune of about $300,000 annually. (According to figures provided to me last summer by our mayor, and not counting the NRA lots on the river, there are about 327 free parking spaces in the city, and assuming we are below the average.)

How about this plan, also talked about in the review: put in parking meters (the charge has to equate to the cost of any paid parking, including a garage) and use the money generated to improve a specific area.

In the case cited, it was Old Pasadena, where the money generated from the parking meters goes directly into the neighborhood. Not to mention San Diego.

San Diego returned 45 percent of its $2.2 million 2002 meter revenues to neighborhoods, and the money was used to clean and light streets, repair sidewalks, remove graffiti, plant trees and provide security.

$200,000-$300,000 won't solve all our budget problems, but it might go a long way towards maintaining our sidewalks, or maintaining our parks, actually keeping the city's trees healthy by hiring a tree warden - all those things we are having difficulty funding, or flat out can't afford.

Driving around looking for a "free" parking spot wastes time and fuel, causes traffic problems (not so much in our small city, perhaps), and pollutes the air (ditto). People will idle for several minutes waiting for someone to leave a 'free' parking spot while there are empty spots in the NRA lots.

And now with the NRA charging, I'm told, city employees are parking in the Green St. lot, which adds to the problem of less and less 'free' parking and more and more driving around.

I checked with the clerk's office today, and a parking ticket for going over time is $10. I asked if you would get more than one if you parked in a spot with a 2-hr. limit for 8 hrs. and was told, "You'd probably get just the one."

That's a bargain, huh? Not as cheap as parking in the NRA lots, which are now $5 for the day.

So here's what Shoup is advocating (I was sent only the first chapter of his book):

These three reforms—charge fair-market prices for curb parking, return the resulting revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it, and remove the zoning requirements for off-street parking—can align our individual incentives with our collective interests and produce enormous benefits at almost no cost. All these benefits will result from subsidizing people and places, not parking and cars.

So, if you had to put money in a meter, say a quarter per quarter hour, would you re-consider the time to slurp down that extra latte at Caffe di Sienna, lingering over dinner at Agave, or would you take the $10 hit?

Or do you see this plan as another form of taxation?

Houses I could afford and tourism

I found this house on Craig's List. It's for sale.
Three bedrooms, one bath, 1,188 sf, near a hospital - $39,900.
At last! A house I probably could actually afford!
Problem is, it's in Flint.
How far the mighty have fallen.
I found this in the description of another house, a 3-bedroom "bungalow" priced at $25,000:
The upstairs is one large room finished in naughty pine ....
Michigan is famous for its naughty pines, did you know?
Flint has a bunch of assets, such as a branch of the University of Michigan, Kettering University and Mott Community College; a cultural center, an art museum, the Sloan Museum, and a planetarium.
It's a place where the automobile industry started, for heaven's sake. And still, it's a dead zone.
Does anyone know that there was actually a man named Buick (David)? Or Olds (Ransom)? Or Chevrolet (Louis)? Or that the car model Cadillac is named after the French explorer who founded Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac?
For all that Americans love their cars (got a feel for my automobile), why did AutoWorld, which was to be the grand attraction to Flint when I was still living there, fail so miserably?
It had this giant internal combustion engine, so you could see how it all works ... but it's gone. I wonder where that engine is? It was way cool.
Attracting tourists is a tricky thing. Flint, and indeed most of Michigan, is on the way to - more Michigan. People driving cross country might pop into Detroit, which is southerly, but who's going to drive 60 miles north to see a giant car engine?
To get to any other state, you have to head back south or waaaaay up north to the Upper Peninsula (the 'UP') - or take a ferry across Lake Michigan. Those damn Great Lakes.
Location, location, location. It's all about location.
Another tidbit: Did you know Detroit is the only place in the U.S. that is north of somewhere in Canada? Yep, Windsor, Ontario, is south of Detroit. Remember this, as it's the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit (Does anyone play that anymore?).

So let me get this straight

The Budget and Finance Committee of the City Council has voted 3-0 to recommend the Council NOT approve the $35,000 funding recommended by the Community Preservation Committee for a master plan for the former Kelley School building, according to the Daily News story.

The reason for the recommendation for denial, Holaday said, is that the committee questioned if this is "really the appropriate use of CPC funds, master planning."

She said the committee is going to look at additional information to see if other communities use Community Preservation Act funding in such a way.

At-large City Councillor Donna Holaday is chairperson of the Budget & Finance Committee. She goes on to say the committee is going to look at additional information to see if other communities use Community Preservation Act funding in such a way.

So, they vote to recommend denial, when a quick check online shows that CPA money can be used to cover administrative costs associated with implementing projects?

According to information provided on the website of the Georgetown (MA) CPC (couldn't find the wording in the legislation):

The CPC is permitted to appropriate up to 5% of the funds for administration and operational costs, so that the town doesn't have to bear the cost of administering the Act. These funds can be used to hire an administrator, purchase office supplies and cover the cost of professional services that may be needed to properly plan a project.

Is Newburyport already using the allowable 5% of the its funds? Whatever - using funds set aside for administration might not even be necessary.

Hingham's CPC, according to this report in the Hingham Journal, this year approved $40,000 for a study of preservation needs for documents and artifacts that are central to the town’s history and development ... The overall goal is to catalog, preserve, and digitize these items. The initial phase would determine the type, amount, and conditions of the documents and artifacts held by each project proponent.

What's the deal? Isn't this like a master plan for the project? Another quick check of this page on Hingham's town website showed they used CPA funds for detailed architectural analysis and designs of an old building.

And to what does this proposed Master Plan relate? Perhaps that's the problem!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's just a reasonable facsimile

I was reading with interest Mary Baker Easton's most recent posts about churches and weathervanes (they are actually one right after the other on her blog).

She didn't mention it, but I do believe the weathervane from the historic Old South Church was once stolen and has been since replaced with a copy (see photo, from when the bell tower was being replaced in Sept. 2006, or photo on the website, with it in place).

Well, the theft of historic icons is nothing new, but I still think it takes a lower form of life to steal from a church (although that's hardly new, either). And I'm not even religious.

Yes, I guess the First Parish Church of Newbury should sell its weathervane and try to make the best with the proceeds. It pained me to go in there a couple of months ago for Sunday service and see how few people were in attendance.

Triple-D, who is why I went in the first place (she was trying to find a church that "fit"), sniffed contemptuously at the paltry number of parisioners present. Her church of choice, Unity on the River, is apparently always full.

"My church has (modern) music!" she exclaimed. Apparently the whole experience was much to "Catholic" for her (the church is United Church of Christ, or UCC). Help save Triple-D from traditional hymns and get her that zydeco beat going.

Is religion also been co-opted by the cappucino-sipping, khaki-wearing, need-for-constant-amusement (or validation) crowd that everyone's been carrying on about? It's just a thought, being thrown out there for consideration ...
The parking garage is an enabler for an auto-dependent society. The anger and hostility against them that has grown up among committed urbanists is a good thing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Kiss my aura, Dora

Check out this post on Ari Herzog's blog, if you haven't already.

God, please save us from ridiculous given names!

I am a firm believer in names related to heritage, but that notion might be outdated.

Note that back in merry old England, people sometimes were called "Fitz" something, to denote their paternal relationship, and in Russia, names were very complicated not only from the patronymic 'middle' name standpoint but also from diminutive forms (try reading "Dr. Zhivago" or "Anna Karenina" and keeping track of all the forms of names).

It's a lot easier to track your ancestry when you know, for example, that for every patriarch named Henry St. John in Barbados, there would be a corresponding son (usually the eldest) with the same name (and the eldest daughter would be named after her mother).

Of course, this can be further complicated by the fact that a certain Henry St. John named his oldest son Henry, but he also named his other son (by his mistress) Henry. Makes sense, though, when you think about it.

Anyway ... I'm not sure all this silliness started with Frank Zappa and his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil (not to mention the other 2, Ahmet and Diva), but it may have. I think I would much rather be called Moon Unit than Apple, which has no flair.

Dweezil, by the way, was only his nickname at first. His registered given name was Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa. At age five, young Dweezil insisted (at least according to Wikipedia) that his name be changed legally to Dweezil, a name which relates to his mother's curled pinky toe.

Having said all that, I once imagined that if I had a daughter, I would name her "Clove." Why? Because I like the word.

Hey, my cousin and his wife named their first kid Dora and the second one Frita (I think). Dora Bea and Frita ... can't remember.

I know - "kiss my aura, Dora" relates to S-E-X! Dear cousin, forgive me for purloining little Dora's name for the title of this post. Dora is a fine name that always reminds me of "David Copperfield."

My second choice for the name of a daughter was Emily, directly because of said book.

Citizens for Newbury

I was reading this story in the Daily News about a new group that has been formed in Newbury in the wake of the defeat of the Little Village People River project (or whatever it was called).

Citizens for Newbury — or C4N — is a continuation and expansion of a loose coalition of local people who favored the Village at Little River, said Don Bade, spokesman for the group.

It made me think about the Town Meeting and how few Newbury residents actually came out to vote. (Those present supported the zoning measure 422-275, but it needed 465 votes to pass.)

"We're trying to build a network of people that will be informed and ready to vote and participate in town government," Bade said. "People should be made aware that they can participate in town government."

People aren't aware of this?

This was an important issue for Newbury, and people should have turned out to vote on it, one way or another. If they did not, they got what they deserved - or what they wanted all along.

Ghostly encounters

Yesterday when I was down in Gloucester, the conversation turned to a favorite topic in my family: ghosts. I think I've posted about ghosts before (can't find such a post, though), but I began to wonder if there were any particularly haunted places in Newburyport?

I was once interviewing head librarian Dottie LaFrance, and she told me that someone had once reported seeing a ghost in the NPL, part of which is an old mansion. A ghost hunter type person came to investigate - but LaFrance never saw the results!

Clearly a skeptic.

Then I found this on line, about a supernatural occurrence here in the city, near Old Hill Burying Ground. The author says Newburyport has "many haunted places."

Where are they? I demand to know ...

This website has a listing, from both Newbury/Byfield and Newburyport. The high school is haunted, as is Triton Regional High School and the Harbor Schools location in Newbury? And apparently a former school on Charles St. was allegedly visited by paranormal pupils in the 1870s.

So ... what we can draw from this is that schools are obviously a source of trauma. As if we didn't know that already ...

They also list Maudslay State Park, but they might have visited during the annual "Maudslay is Haunted" event ... that's pretty spooky.

If you're interested in ghosts/ghost stories, check out the book "20th Century Ghosts," by Joe Hill. Spooky stuff (not all ghostly). My mother also had a copy of his new book, "Heart-Shaped Box."

Speeding tickets

I've noticed lately a lot more attention being paid to the traffic along the PI Turnpike, by the police departments of both Newbury and Newburyport.

This is a good thing, because it's been like a dragway out there lately. One of the things I also notice about all the vehicles associated with the water/sewer hookups and the spurt of new building out on the island is that speeding and reckless driving has increased.

Pickup trucks with logos of local builders spin down Old Point Rd. as if the hounds of hell are in pursuit.

I hate to say it (why?), but the biggest offender is a school bus driver who, when school was in session, drove her bus so fast that I think even the kids inside were scared shitless. This is/was a Triton bus, by the way.

Our city's animal control officer recently told me about all the dead dogs she has to pick up on Northern Blvd. - a residential area (as is all of Plum Island, I would think) where nobody should be driving faster than 25 mph.

So has the top 10 ways to avoid getting a speeding ticket, which I don't think will work on the PI Turnpike, or Northern Blvd., or Old Point Rd.

I'm glad that they point out that the best way to avoid getting a ticket is to not speed, but tips on how to avoid being caught breaking the law kind of irk me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'm talkin' about Quiche

Wow, I just realized something real important: people don't come on here unless I post something!

Well, actually, I had realized that before. A fellow blogger once commented that I post too much and that I'm "all over the place."

Yeah, well, that's me.

Speaking of me (which I usually am), I wanted to explain about our mayor saying he was going to send me an email explaining why I was oh-so-misguided in my comments about building permits vs. property taxes, last week over on Tom Salemi's blog.

He did not send any such email, or I would have posted it.

Who cares? you might ask. Well, I care.

I hate to think that he sent one of his minions out to chastise me (as one of them did, albeit backhandedly) instead, but if the shoe fits ... actually, I would prefer to think this person did it on his/her own initiative.

Which, you know, kind of implied that the mayor can't fight his own battles against misinformation. Meddling in other people's business often reaps that result, as well as many other unintended consequences ...

The whole time we were last week engaged in that epic 63-comment dialog on Tom's blog, I kept waiting for some "expert" to put in their 2 cents; then I got overheated, offended, and all those other words that so often characterize my temperament.

Hey, that post was called "Less than Pleasant Street." It was foreshadowing ...

Anyway, during our phone conversation, the mayor very quickly ran through my misguided statements (he didn't characterize them that way; I am) and said that of course building permits were a big part of it, but building the tax base is very important, and maintaining the influx of building permits was also important, and ... oh, forget it!

More about Quiche la Poodle (she has run off with the Great Dane at this point):

The dog that brought me so much joy
Has left me wallowing in pain.
Quiche Lorraine
I'll show her!
Do you see the key in my hand?
I'm gonna throw it in the lake.
Yeah, you've been so rotten to me,
You take the cake.
I'm just gonna lock the door to your kennel
And just you try and come back to me -
Yeah, you'll see ...

You mangy mutt.

I love the word "mangy," don't you?

The 'historic' debate continues

It's Thursday, and as usual, I went down to Gloucester to visit me mum.

My mother lives in a Victorian-era house, and my youngest sister is about to move into one, at the end of next month.

My sister was most dismayed by the 'changes' that were made to the house they are buying in Malden, but let's face it, had it been an 'unrestored Victorian,' they would not have been able to afford it.

They plan on doing a lot of tearing out of 1970s-era paneling, bizarre kitchen modifications, and hope to be able to restore exterior trim that was removed.

She had hoped to be able to live in a historic house and now she's about to get her wish come true.

So it was with particular interest that I read this story (and, of course, accompanying comments) in today's Daily News.

In a nutshell, people bought house described below, agreed to conditions of a special permit, then gutted the house to the frame.

The special permit was granted for a so-called 6C development to build two residential structures on one lot. As part of the permit granted by the Planning Board, officials called for the preservation of certain aspects of the existing home, a 2,064-square-foot Greek revival built in 1900 ...

Granting the special permit took several months, [Planning Director Nancy] Colbert said, and included participation from several boards, including the Historical Commission. The owner of the home or representatives were involved in each step along the way, Colbert and [Planning Board Chairman Daniel] Bowie said.

If these people did not want to maintain a historic home, why did they buy one? Could it be because they also get to build a second home on the same lot?

Why did the Planning Office spend considerable time coming up with a special permit, especially one that allows 2 homes on one lot? Aren't we all about open space around here?

Why are there no fines associated with this "flagrant" disregard for the special permit?

So ... months of time and no fine? What a waste of taxpayers' money. Save your outrage, Planning Board and Historical Commission, for your own decisions.

Has anybody seen ..

a dog dyed dark green,
about two inches tall,
with a strawberry blond fall;
sunglasses and a bonnet,
designer jeans with appliques on it?

No reason to post this; I just wanted to!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Family ties?

I was checking into some of the surviving letters Jane Austen wrote to her sister. In at least one letter, she makes reference to the neighbors the St. Johns, who paid a visit.

It seems that this family lived in a house called Ashe Park. Now, of course, this was nearly 100 yrs. after my St. John ancestors show up in Barbados. But I can't find any other reference to this family.

I did, however, come across this somewhat callous observation made in one of Austen's letters:

Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

Speaking of restaurants

A fellow writer on SeaCoast Scene (which reminds me, I have to file my story) called me the other day seeking information about a place to eat in Newburyport. She was calling on behalf of a friend.

The first place that leaped to my mind was - Starboard Galley! I don't think I've ever posted specifically about Starboard Galley, but I think I have said that, bang for your buck, I think it's one of the best places in the city (along with Mr. India).

The food, in my experience, is consistently good. I recommended it to Triple-D, who said she thought it was a place for old people to eat. She liked it! She really liked it! Not for a date, but ... nah, I'm trying to be nicer.

Anyway, Virginia just called me and said her friend and her husband enjoyed their meal, and the location (they wanted somewhere near the river). I was happy.

If anyone has not tried Jumpin' Jay's in Portsmouth, that's also very good (although much pricier). It's a seafood joint.

Friendship can suck!

A few weeks ago, I was on my way to a meeting of our writers' group, and my neighbor said, "Say hello to my friend (insert random name) for me!"

She had been referring to (random name), who is in the group, for weeks as her "friend."

So I got to the meeting place and said to (random name), "Oh, (neighbor's name) said to say 'hi.'"

"Who?" she asked. Turns out they had met once, at another meeting.

So now I don't know who to refer to as my friend, in a context where it would truly describe the relationship, or what to call someone who is not really my friend but ... for example, I would not call (random name) my friend because I don't know her all that well - but she is something more to me than just someone I see occasionally.

I frequently have lunch with another person, a man of my acquaintance. We talk about various things, but we never really have shared anything of a personal nature. Is he my friend? I think of him as a friend.

But I have another person here in town that I have shared personal stuff with (and vice versa), but who I see less regularly. Is she more my friend than the guy I have lunch with?

That's a good question.

The word "friend" is defined in my Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "one attached to another by respect or affection."

If your friend does or says something wrong, do you by definition support him or her? What if 2 of your friends are in a dispute or simple disagreement, who do you go with? The one who has been your friend the longest, or the one you agree with?

If your friend does something you don't like, what do you do? Call them up and confront them, or what? (No, I really want to know!)

If someone is your friend, does that automatically mean you turn your head away from, or deny, their faults and failings? I think the case of Billy White, the young man convicted of drunk driving who violated his parole by having a beer, is a case in point.

On the Daily News website, his friends rallied around him and said he didn't deserve to go back to jail because he'd done this and that and what a good friend he is.

So what? They would have served him better as his friend if the one who was with him at the restaurant had stopped him from ordering a beer (pun not intended).

You build your friendships as you go along. Then mere friends become "good friends." Oh. My. God. Everything has to have a qualifier, doesn't it?

"There is no such word as gotten"

Here is something that really grates on me: the word gotten.

I found online (, citing the American Heritage Book of English Usage) this opening paragraph to a piece on the word:

"There is no such word as gotten,” an irritated reader recently wrote to The Boston Globe Magazine, objecting to the use of the word by a usage commentator, who should have known better. The notion that gotten is illegitimate has been around for over 200 years and refuses to die. The word itself is much older than the criticism against it.

Newburyport author Anne Easter Smith recently pointed out a quote attributed to her and said she was sure she hadn't said precisely that because she never uses the word "gotten" (which was in the quote).

Smith was born and raised in England, where the word has mostly passed out of usage, she (and the entry on notes.

So I read this opening to a small piece in today's Daily News and cringed: Just weeks after being relieved of her town planner duties in Newbury, Judy Tymon has gotten a new job.

Sounds really cumbersome, doesn't it? But is it also wrong?

"Gotten" is the past participle of "get." Again, from the Book of English Usage: Got often implies current possession, where gotten usually suggests the process of obtaining. I haven’t got any money suggests that you are broke. I haven’t gotten any money suggests that you have not been paid for your efforts.

So ... if Tymon has secured the job, does that mean she's got it? Yes. BUT, the English language being as complicated as it is, there is also the perfect aspect tense (a combination of some form of the verb "to have" and the active verb's past participle), which allegedly draws attention to the consequences generated by a person's action.

In that sense, and in the context used, "has gotten" is correct ... I guess. I would think the consequences came when the Newbury Selectmen gave her the boot.

Right or wrong, it still grates on me, though. I like lovely, flowing sentence constructions ... "Just weeks after being relieved of her town planning duties in Newbury, Judy Tymon can give Newbury the proverbial ..." uh-oh, better not go down that road!

Do you think whoever wrote/edited that piece gave it this much thought?

Tymon, by the way, will be town planner in North Andover.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Greater Merrimack Valley Restaurant Week

I just returned from the Mission Oak Grill, where they were kicking off the Greater Merrimack Valley Restaurant Week (which is actually 2 weeks, so go figure).

Said Week(s) starts July 27 and ends Aug. 8 (note Saturday dinner is not included).

So, during Restaurant Week(s), you get 3-course (prix fixe menu) lunch for $20.08 pp and/or dinner for $33.08 (note that lunch is not served at all the places; see below). Don't know what the $.08 is all about (I did ask).

13 restaurants, including Mission Oak and The Grog and 2 in Haverhill:

Bistro 45
45 Wingate St.

Trattoria al Forno (real brick oven; burns wood)
83-87 Washington St.

I talked quite extensively with reps from both these places (sound good), and Billy Costa told everyone he really liked the pepper app that the Bistro had (see photo). There I go, name dropping again ...

Full list of participants:

Athenian Corner (Lowell) - D - 978.458.7052
Andover Inn (Andover) - L&D - 978.475.5903
Bistro 45 (Haverhill) - D - 978.469.9700
Cassis Bistro Francais (Andover) - D - 978.474.8788
Concord’s Colonial Inn (Concord) - L&D - 978.369.2373
Dalya’s (Bedford) - L&D - 781.275.0700
The Grog (Newburyport) - L&D - 978.465-8008
L’Andana Grill (Burlington) - L&D - 781.270.0100 (same people that own Teatro, Mistral, Mooo and Sorellino in Boston)
Max Stein’s (Lexington) - D - 781.402.0033
Mission Oak Grill (Newburyport) - D - 978.463.9009
Parker House Grill (Dracut) - D - 978.654.4285
Summer Winter (Burlington) - L&D - 781.221.6643
Trattoria al Forno (Haverhill) - D - 978.374.8200

You have to call for reservations to get the Restaurant Week prices! Menus and details available at

Hi folks in Everett

Apparently the only way to find out the real story about the preliminary injunction is to go to Suffolk Superior Court, where the injunction was filed, and hope someone will let you look at it.

All anyone here knows is that there was one filed.

Sorry, fellow sufferers. Hopefully we will all get relief soon.

Butterfly bush, cat, milkweed

Alas, no monarchs right then - although they are around.

I'm starting to love the beach grass, which has really spread this year.
Please ignore ugly metal shed in background. I have done nothing to make it look better, or move it, since neighbors gave it to me last fall.

PI erosion

If nothing else, check out this 2003 report on 'geotubes' used to control beach erosion in Upper Texas ... and see the story in today's Daily.

There is a photo in there (the report), on or around p. 39. Take a gander and see if it does not remind you of a certain beach about a mile from where I'm sitting ...

Can't type anymore ... literally. Pierced the end of my left index finger and huge dressing severely limits ability to type.

Faygo and Koegel's and Angelo's

I got this comment off a recipe forum. It pretty much sums up the Flint experience (the good, albeit unhealthy, one):

Though I'm not from Michigan or grew up with Coney Islands, but ex-husband is originally from Flint. He had me hooked on them, the meats from Kogel's, Verner's ginger ale, and love the cheese from Pinconning. My ex brought home packages of Kogel's vienna hotdogs, coney island sauce fron Angelo's, along with Verner's ginger ale, it's the best! Oh, I also love those pickled bologna from Kogel's meats, and the Red Hots, YUMMY!

Ah, the memories ... going to Angelo's (a Coney Island-style restaurant) for a coney dog, a Vernor's (was the best ginger ale ever, until they changed it - it would tickle your nose) and hash browns (American fries?) with gravy. Does that last item sound icky enough? It was DELICIOUS!

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like a Koegel's Vienna. It's your regulation Michigan hotdog, only somehow vastly superior to any other sausage known to man.

And there is (or was) nothing like Faygo Redpop - except for the Rock & Rye, that is.

Faygo (a Detroit company), by the way, is credited with starting the habit people in the Midwest have of saying "pop" instead of "soda." It still always jolts me when my mother says, "We need some pop."

Faygo had this commercial featuring people on a Bob-Lo boat (Detroit), singing:

Oh, now I'm all misty-eyed ... hey, I can buy the commercial on VHS, for just $9.95! Where's my damn check book? Gotta go!

A-frame permits denied

I've been so much frittering away my time potentially exploding people's heads that I haven't been paying attention to the local news - sub shop renovations (Tom Salemi is on that) and A-frame signs.

Not to mention Yankee Homecoming, which Tom is also all over. I'm with Dick M. - I didn't even realize that it starts on Friday! And the annual Kitchen Tour is on Saturday (one of the featured kitchens is in the renovated Wheelwright House, and I know you're curious ...).

Well, the A-frame sign debacle, it seems, has been sort of resolved, to the (perhaps) detriment of businesses not on the main streets of our city.

The city is going to enforce the current ordinance, which is (as written in the Daily News): signs must be adjacent to the building, no farther than 4 feet from the front door and require a $50 permit from City Hall.

Enforcing the current regulation is always a good thing, and I commend the License & Permit Committee for recognizing that.

Does the city need to come up with a solution to the alleged problem of businesses and advertising? A publication I write for offered at least one of the businesses with an A-frame sign more than 4 ft. away from the front door the chance to buy an ad for a couple hundred bucks and was told "no thanks."

Advertising is a recognized form of ... well, advertising. As much as I hate to say it, some of those places in town where I love to eat also think advertising has no place in their budget. Even to the point of not having a website, as Ari Herzog pointed out back in Feb.

As I've said before, I don't have a problem with the A-frame signs. But if they're not legal, them's the facts.

If your business can't survive without one (and I'm not entirely sure that's what Bil Silliker of Licorice & Sloe said or meant), then consider taking out an ad in one of the many (free) publications that are out there, which tourists pick up to find out where to go.

Or, you know, do something that gets you in the paper (in a positive way, that is).

Gimme a dog with mustard and cup of chowder, please

I was reading this story from Sunday's Globe North, about Fenway Park and hot dogs. Everyone loves a good dog at the park, right?

Well, it seems the upscale trend has hit America's favorite pastime, with the park now offering - rotisserie chicken, turkey wraps and clam chowder?

Actually, I kinda, sorta knew that already. Jerry Remy last year joked frequently about people in the luxury boxes dropping their sushi when a fly ball came their way. But I guess you can get whatever you want brought into your luxury box, or your suite at Fenway.

And I can't help but think, "What the .....?"

Are regular hot dog loving folks being "yuppified" out of everywhere: here, there, EVERYWHERE, dammit. OK, you go to the ballpark, you expect to pay too much for a hotdog. The vendors have to make money, too, and where better than with a captive audience?

But going to the ballpark and eating clam chowder?! Somehow, that seems sacrilegious. Sort of like yakking on your cell phone during the game ...

There is hope, though, according to the story: hot dogs are still #1 at the park. YAY

Now I wish I could afford to go to a game.

Don't mess with Jane

Well, folks, it's still only the morning of the day, and already the Jane Austen post has apparently caused at least one head to explode (it has a "Head Splodey Warning" attached to it on one fan site; I like that, it's cute).

What I object to is that it is given as an example of why "Becoming Jane" is evil ... as if I'm some kind of deficient who made up her mind, after some 40 years of reading Austen, after watching a piece of fluff movie.

That post, this early in the a.m., has booted the greenhead posts right out of the water for most hits, EVER. It will surely jack up my hit count for the day to dizzying heights.

The problem is, no one clicking over to the post seems to be actually reading it, so what does that say? That some people have an irresistible urge to click on any link that's presented to them?

Jeepers, JaneAustenHeads, if you aren't going to read my pearls of wisdom, stay off my friggin' blog!

But wait! - Yikes! - Will I become the Ann Coulter of the Jane Austen world? (And does that involve monetary gain, I wonder ...)

Or maybe people just want to note what the spawn of evil might look like ... which brings me back to Ann Coulter. Oh, no, it doesn't. It hurts my fingers just to type her name!

It is a truth universally acknowledged ...

I've been just itching since last night to post about Jane Austen.

Last evening (Sunday, that would be) I watched the movie "Becoming Jane" before it was time for the excellent PBS series (which is ending after this season) "Foyle's War."

Let's disregard for a moment that James McAvoy is not only a good actor but is the cutest thing to hit the screen since ... who? I don't know; he's that cute. I also absolutely loved him in "The Last King of Scotland."

Also, I guess it would have been beyond the realm of the possible for the film makers to have cast someone who was small and rather plain to portray Jane Austen, who was in fact small and rather plain. So they went with the happy medium and cast the tall and striking Anne Hathaway.
But my point is not so much about the movie itself - which I liked better than that insipid 2005 film version of "Pride and Prejudice" - but more about the reaction to it. (I always read the online reviews of a movie after I watch it.)

I can see where people were all up in arms about the film intimating that Austen's life experiences contributed to her novels. Say what? A writer taking situations and quotes from real life? What an alarming notion!

This film comes right out and portrays a secret, passionate love affair that Austen had before she even wrote, or while she was writing, "Pride & Prejudice." That's were McAvoy comes in (woo-hoo).

Now, I have always noticed that whereas in her later books, Austen seems to have more of a grip on romantic love, in "P&P" she seems to be rather clueless (hey, that's a pun, seeing as how "Clueless" is a modern twist on Austen's "Emma").

But she does use one thought that I read in a letter she wrote to her sister - at the end, when Elizabeth asks Darcy about his loving her when he know so little of actual good about her. She says something about Lefroy in her letter.

... unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first ...

I love the book; it's brilliant social commentary, and very clever, but about actual love it is rather limited. Move on to her later novels, especially "Persuasion" (my second favorite, after "P&P"), and she's got it down.

So obviously somewhere along the line she felt love and probably was loved in return. Whether it was about Tom Lefroy (played by McAvoy), I can't say. They met before she finished "P&P," as far as anyone knows.

But you know? Someone destroyed nearly all her letters - but saved a few for posterity. It is hard, given her keen sense of the ironic and the sardonic, to assess from the few references to Lefroy in the surviving letters what precisely their relationship was.

I don't think it's a big leap from the fact that she writes in "P&P" about a couple (allegedly) fleeing to Scotland to marry against social convention and then being accepted back into the family to a situation that she might have herself faced (and which is depicted in the film).

Did Jane Austen have some side that we're not able to know about? The Regency period in England, although full of social conventions, was not all that puritanical. I give you Lady Caroline Lamb, the The Princess of Wales (another Caroline) and Emma Hamilton (Horatio Nelson's girlfriend).

Well, none of these were the daughters of country parsons, you might say. And not everyone followed the fashion of filmy dress (in some cases, even wet down to become more clingy, I've read), even if they could afford to. But this is another digression.

"Imagination is everything."

Well, no ... imagination is one thing. Building on what you know, or your base, and using your imagination is everything (if you're a writer, that is). Take "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," and the Harry Potter books. They're all about the same thing - good vs evil - but each author used his or her imagination to build on that base.

Would Austen have given up her writing to run off with her lover? I think the question is rather whether he would have made her stop writing. Would someone of that strength of character really have fallen in love with someone who did not respect her as a writer?

While I don't feel entirely comfortable transposing my 20th century sensibilities onto a 19th century woman, I rather doubt that she would have.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bishops blogging

I was scanning the CNN website and came across this story of people in Italy who continued to sunbathe even though the bodies of 2 young girls who had just drowned lay nearby on the beach.

The story was kind of revolting, but what caught my attention was this sentence:

The incident also attracted condemnation from the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe. "Indifference is not an emotion for human beings," Seppe wrote in his parish blog.

Wait ... the Archbishop of Naples has a blog? I stopped reading the story as soon as I read that. It is, apparently, part of the parish website.

A quick Google search later, and I see all kinds of clerical types have blogs. Not so much here in the States, it would seem, but lots of other places.

This, by the way, is one person's characterization of blogging: Most blogs are written by regular folks with strong opinions and a considerable amount of free time.

I don't know why it surprised me that the Archbishop of Naples has a blog, but I can definitely see why the Archbishop of Naples has a blog.

The mayor DOES give a hoot

For all you people in Everett, the mayor just gave me a jingle and said he's going to try and connect me with someone who can answer questions about Everett and Wood Waste.

He apologized for not getting back with me sooner, by the way.

There is also more forthcoming from the mayor, who is always oh ever so nice to me, even when I make him seem like a dingbat, which I know very well he is not.

So .... one way or another, sometime later today, after I get his email explaining himself and as the result of comments I made about the benefits of development on the tax base on Tom Salemi's blog, here*, using words I attributed to the mayor, I will take the hit.

God, what a sentence. Does it even make sense? I wrote things on Tom's blog based on a conversation I had with the mayor last year, the comments were pointed out to the mayor, and he is sending me an email explaining what he meant, or what I didn't get, or a combination of the two.

I don't know; I have yet to receive the email!

* Well, Tom deleted the really sarcastic comment, so I have him to thank for me not looking like a total fool (wouldn't be the first time)!

See me, feel me, touch me

If you have not already, check out the blog Night Blind, by another former "Flintoid," Macy Swain.

She has some interesting insights into the newspaper (in general) and what the printed page means to her:

It's about the senses. I love the physicality of a newspaper -- how there's something to hold in your hand, the sound of pages turning, the smell of it.

I particularly enjoyed her reference to the old card catalogs in the public library. When I was a student and I worked in the university's library (with an eye to becoming a librarian), and I was one of the people who filed those cards into those drawers.

Although on the face of it, it would seem to be a really boring task, I really loved it. It was exactly what Macy says, and more - flipping through the older cards that so many before me had touched, seeing names of books I'd never heard of, noticing the well-worn cards versus the ones that had been passed over in deference to some other tome, more useful, perhaps ...

It's the same way I feel about books. I said in an earlier post that I liked "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwen because, in part, it felt nice in my hands, the paper is nice and thick - and oh, all those things contribute to the enjoyment of reading.

"See me, feel me, touch me" - are we all suffering from sensory deprivation?

Au revoir, Stephen

I just read this post on Tom Salemi's blog, informing us that Stephen Tait is leaving the Daily News and returning to Michigan.

Must have been all those flattering portrayals of Michigan I'm always posting on here ... no, seriously, last time I talked with Stephen, he was telling me how much he misses Michigan (a sentiment I can't relate to, by the way).

He was just about to go back, on vacation, so this does not really surprise me.

Stephen Tait is one of the truly sweetest people you could ever be around. Based on the fact that we both sprang from Michigan, we struck up a bond of sorts right away - although I suspect he had that type of relationship with almost everyone he encountered.

We sort of danced around the issue of my always knocking the Daily News, and he was just so good natured about it. (One time he literally ran down the hall of City Hall to open the locked rear door so I could enter; "See, the Daily News isn't all bad!" he joked.)

I'll miss seeing him around, as I suspect many others will as well. He was here for quite a stretch (he replaced Stephanie Chelf on the city beat), and I wish him all the best in Michigan.

He comes from a 'good' part of the state, by the way, which is quite beautiful. He firmly rejected my notion that The Flint Journal could really use him ...

My trip on a tall ship (August 2006)

I was reminded when reading this post on Tom Salemi's blog and this one on South End Blend of two days just a little short of 2 years ago, when I sailed on the three-masted "Friendship"as it made its way from Salem (MA) to Newburyport.

That's her, docked on Newburyport's waterfront.
I was on assignment from the Current. The (then) editor, Ulrika Gerth, I recall, phoned me up to say she couldn't go because the trip would extend over a production day, and did I want to do it (she sounded sorry to be bothering me with it).

"Are you kidding?" I said. "I'd love it!"

And I did - nearly every second of it, even the sleepless night and the next morning, when we were bobbing on anchor off the coast, waiting for the tide to turn so we could enter the mouth of the river.

The part I will never forget is entering the river, on motor, past Salisbury Beach (at the mouth of the river), and all the people running down the beach towards us. Literally hundreds of people running, and waving, and smiling, and cheering.

Makes me all misty just thinking about it. You can read my account of the journey here (sadly, the archived article doesn't seem to include the great photographs taken by Nicole Goodhue Boyd).

Anyone recognize the man in the photo? Yes, it's former Daily News reporter Nick Pinto. He climbed all the way up the mast, the brave fellow. I took this shot of him when he was about halfway up. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Baby cardinal

This baby cardinal was in the scrub trees outside my bedroom window for about half an hour earlier. First he was looking around, then he (or she) took a little nap, did some feather maintenance, then hopped off to a more open location. I realized within seconds that the move was so the mom cardinal would know where s/he was ... she arrived, fed baby and after a while, they both moved on. I have 2 feeders hanging off to the right of where the baby was (outside the living room window).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Our Starbucks is safe (for now anyway)

Bad news, foes of our Starbucks: the Newburyport store is not slated for closure (see the list, by state, here on the Wall Street Journal site). No surprise, since they just did that remodel.

But for those of you who love Starbucks, the piece accompanying the map also talks about the Save Our Starbucks campaign.

One woman in NYC, Kate Walker, a facilities manager for software company SunGard Financial Systems is "devastated" by the slated closing of the Starbucks in the building where she works - she is in charge of consolidating people from 7 other locations to that building and used the presence of the Starbucks to "psych people up" about being re-located.

I'm not sure that would be enough to psych me up, but hey, to each his or her own!

I find it interesting that none of the numerous Starbucks stores in Boston are on the list. In that 3-block radius I often mention around Copley Square, there are, or were, 5 Starbucks stores. Compare that to two Dunkin' Donuts shops (three if you count the one in the Back Bay MBTA station) and one (or maybe 2) Au Bon Pain - not sure if the one in Copley Place is still there.

Were all these Starbucks always busy? Yes, mostly. The one on Newbury St. was less busy than the one by the T station, but there was also one nearly right across the street, in the Westin. The one further up Boylston St. (towards Mass Ave.) had comfy chairs and tables, which was nice.

But it's still a reflection of a lifestyle that I am inclined to reject. As you know, I love my lattes, but there's nothing to replace the ambiance (or the aromas) at a Caffe di Sienna or a Greta's. I do have to say, however, that the Newburyport Starbucks is a lot more friendly than the ones in Boston, which makes sense.

I don't know if that comes down from corporate or not, but whoever instructed the clerks and baristas to chat with the customers made a good decision.

Not that I ever go in there. Well, I have not been in there since it re-opened. And now I notice that Abe's is offering espresso drinks (I used to go to Abe's for my bagel and Starbucks for my latte).

I got that info off an A-frame sign ...

Is this the ruination of us all?

I mean this, right here, this blog - and all other blogs - and the Internet in general.

Finding that I, for the most part, spend more time on this blog than I do on work that nets me an actual profit, I realized the other day that maybe it is (or ultimately will be) the ruination of me. If it can be so negatively categorized.

And I have to think that many of the people who read my blog are doing so at work.

Speaking about the former point with a friend yesterday, he pointed out that professional bloggers can make big bucks off their blogs.

The thing is, do I have the inclination (or even the savvy) to be a "professional" blogger? I mean, maintaining a blog that will attract thousands upon thousands of visitors and make it so I have to hire people to moderate comments for me?

(As the weeks crawled by after I started this blog, I remember one night looking at SiteMeter and saying "Come on!" when the hit count for that day was at 99. When it finally turned over to 100, I was overjoyed.)

I check this blog in between calls I'm making for a story; I respond to comments left on here more readily than I return calls having to do with actual income.

I feel about me being a professional blogger the same way I feel about me writing a successful book: no way, Jose.

I'm a little angry that the mayor (or Lois) never returned my calls about the Wood Waste preliminary injunction in Everett. More angry than I am at someone who hasn't returned my calls about a story I'm doing, for which my deadline is tomorrow.

So then I start thinking about when I first heard about AOL, and chat rooms. Once I was on, I was on, baby ... I checked for messages before I left for work, I checked during work, it was the first thing I did when I got home from work. I had more "friends" on AOL than I had in my real life.

In an AOL chat room is where I met my last boyfriend (hey, it worked for nearly 9 years). I knew a couple, with her in NH and him in Scotland ... he flew over here to meet her, and he IM'd me about how nervous he was, and how he feared he wouldn't be able to find her at the airport; and I was telling him how to get to where she said she'd be standing, knowing the international terminal at Logan Airport as I did.

Then there was this other guy, who was in the military out west somewhere (I forget where). He was leaving the military and had been offered a job here in Mass. I was giving him names of realtors and suggesting towns where he and his family could settle in.

I gave him my work phone number and told him to call me if his business ever brought him to Boston, and we could have lunch. He never did.

There were a host of men and women that I "talked" to every day, shared thoughts with, consoled or was consoled ... only ever met the one.

I lost track of all of the others, so I don't know what ultimately happened with any of them.

That's the thing, you see, you lose track of people when they're not actually present in your life.

So back to ruination. I don't know the answer to this question, either (if I knew, I would tell you). The Internet, and blogs, is where I get most, if not all, of my information. It's not necessarily where I get my friends (or lovers) anymore, but it's a big part of my life.

I just spent nearly an hour writing this post, for example ...

Reflections from my yard: the monarchs

(The monarchs also like this purple thing, that's growing in a big pot outside the house. I can never remember the plant's name!)

I was sitting on the enclosed porch this morning (once I'd killed off the population of greenheads that had appeared in there since yesterday, of course), looking at the garden.

Suddenly, this tiny bird appeared, hovering around the blooming coral bells (meaning they are in bloom, not that they have angered me in some way). Before I could even register that it was a hummingbird, a much larger bird (what isn't larger?) swooped down and chased it away.

I'd never seen that happen before, with a hummingbird being the 'victim' (although I've only ever seen a hummingbird in the yard one other time in the 4 summers I've lived here).

Which reminds me, when I posted about the monarchs, I didn't say there were 2 of them. The other one kept chasing the one I was photographing away, but it always came back. This morning I looked out my kitchen window and there were 2 of them on the butterfly bush.

I never saw this because I guess I get up too late, but my neighbor told me last summer that while walking her dog at like 5 a.m., she saw my butterfly bush literally covered with monarchs.

Last year I wrote a story for SeaCoast Scene about monarchs and attracting them to your garden. At a lovely home and garden in Newbury, I learned that they lay their eggs on milkweed. I used to pull all the milkweed up out of the yard - after talking with her, I stopped doing that.

Since I put the garden in, the second summer I lived here, I have all kinds of butterflies. I also really like the little yellow ones, but I don't think they're here yet.

Note that the only other sighting of a hummingbird was also near milkweed (I wasn't so rabid about pulling it up from the back yard).

Friday, July 18, 2008

When the rain comes

I left my yard earlier (after taking butterfly and garden pics), literally with sweat running down my back. There was, however, a distant rumble of thunder.

As I drove closer to town, the wind was picking up and twigs and such were blowing across Water St. It was noticeably cooler.

I got to The Tannery (heading for the ATM) and the wind was really gusting. There was this nice man in the ATM room with me and he was giving me updates on the approach of clouds as I extracted money from the machine.

(Of course, if I had been Triple-D, I would have turned on the charm and finagled some kind of commitment to dinner or otherwise out of him. But I'm me, so I wished him a good night and left him to conduct his own transaction in peace.)

I wandered over to The Nutcracker, which to my dismay now closes at 7 p.m. It was 7:05 according to the clock in the Jetta when I left The Tannery to head back home.

Tooling up the PI Turnpike, I made the snap decision to stop at Bob Lobster for ice cream. The wind was howling over the marsh and there were people stopped along the road taking pictures of the clouds.

Five minutes later or so I was back in the car. I thought it prudent to wind up the passenger side window at this point. I saw a vivid bolt of lighting over in the general direction of the cottage.

Bob Lobster is, what, a mile from the cottage?

As I drove up Old Point Road, rain began to spatter the windshield. As I came around the curve, rain was obscuring my view through the windshield, and when I got home, the storm was in full force.

That was about half an hour of my life. Forty-five minutes, max. - it all started about two hours ago, and although I can see flashes of lighting off to the south, I don't believe it is raining here any longer.

I don't think it rained long enough to be of benefit to my garden.

Such is life out here on this little spit of sand.

The monarchs have returned

This is why I keep the milkweed and why I have a butterfly bush. Of course, the furball had to assist with the photos (he was getting a big kick out of the butterfly flitting from the milkweed to the bush).

Other shots are of my little garden. I got nothing on Mary from SouthEnd Blend for photography, but I figure it's worth a shot ... *ahem*

Congratulations are in order

Tom Ryan sent out his first query emails to literary agents for his book proposal on Tuesday and this morning signed on with an agent in New York City!

"The only drawback is that she is…GASP!...a Yankees fan; but that is mitigated by her 28 year marriage to a Red Sox fan," Tom writes to his email group.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking (Ryan's former news journal/paper, the Undertoad, riled up more than a few people in town) - and I don't want to hear it, by the way - but if you read his blog, you will see that he is a great writer and can wring some tears out of you if you're not careful (especially when he's writing about his dog, Atticus, or his predecessors).

Speaking of Atticus, this agency he signed on with last year handled the best-selling "Mockingbird," a biography of Harper Lee, who wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," the main character in that book being Atticus Finch ... but I'm sure you all knew that already!

I'm happy for Tom, but I'm also happy that there are still agents out there who recognize good writing. So much of what I read these days is drivel ... well, not so much since I started acting on recommendations rather than "winging it" or relying on best-seller lists.

But congratulations again, Tom!

I try Oregano (at last)

I had two different but related experiences today.

First, I went to Oregano for lunch (more about that later). Then I went to get gas in the Jetta.

My newest gas station of choice (although it was always in the top 3) is Kelley's on High St. (next to The Natural Grocer). They give you a lower price if you pay with cash.

So I went in knowing I only had about $15 in cash and thinking they maybe had a $20 minimum to get the good price. The kid who was pumping the gas confirmed the minimum.

"How much do you have?" he asked.


"Ah, I'll give it to you."

"That's why I come here!" I said to him as he collected my $15. The young guys who work there are really good at checking things, topping off fluids, etc. One of them got down on the ground the last time I was there, to check if I had 4WD (he said the Trek model with 4WD was a hot commodity right now).

Anyway, before that I was at Oregano. When I walked in, at a little after 1, the place was fairly full. I had a hard time getting through to the hostess that I was waiting on another person, who I was supposed to meet outside, but I was just checking inside because it was so hot.

One very minor blip.

So I was seated, and at the next table was a man eating some kind of pasta .... oh, hell, long story short, the service is still lacking.

By the time my lunch companion got there, I was so hungry that I over-ordered. I ordered a Middle Eastern appetizer, the Tripoli Dip ($9). Did not care for it.

The three dips had olive oil on them in the style of making a crater in your mashed potatoes and filling it with gravy. The pita bread was like store-bought (but that's what I get for ordering off topic).

The reviewer for the Globe had talked about the Louisiana pizza, which sounded similar to a BBQ chicken pizza I had at Villaggio in The Tannery. I enjoyed Villaggio's so much, I wanted to check it out.

Hmmmm ... it's hard to say what my opinion would have been had I not had the one at Villaggio first. They both had barbeque sauce, an "exotic" cheese, carmelized onions and chunks of chicken.

Subtly-flavored goat cheese vs. smoked Gouda; heavy barbeque sauce vs. (again) a lighter sauce - I could barely see the carmelized onions on the Oregano pizza, never mind tasting them. All I tasted was BBQ sauce and the strong cheese; the Villaggio pizza was a light blend of flavors and I could taste everything (keep in mind that I smoke).

Plus, the one at Villaggio also had red onions and mozzarella cheese. Not sure if the Oregano pie had mozzarella.

I liked the crust, though, on both.

Both of us had a person pizza ($10 for his mushroom pie, $11 for the Louisiana0, although my companion was charged $1.25 extra for asking for red sauce over white sauce on his, I had the appetizer, an iced tea, and a beer afterwards. The total bill was a little over $39.

Now my first point. I tasted the ice tea, and I thought it tasted funny. I drink a lot of iced tea in the summer. My companion said it looked more like Coke (cola) than iced tea, and I thought maybe there was some residue of Coke in it. I asked the waitress if she was sure it was all iced tea because it tasted funny, and she assured me it was.

No offer of "let me get you another one." I still drank it down, but it was weird iced tea. And I thought the room was way too noisy; I could barely hear what my companion was saying without dipping my chest into my sauce-covered plate. Conversation, music ... it was all a little too much.

Once it started clearing out, I was able to hear him.

Overall, I might go there again to try out a pasta dish, but basically I was underwhelmed.

On Clinton, Patrick and safety

I remember when President Bill Clinton came to Boston's North End. My sister and brother-in-law lived there then, and I hobbled on over from wherever I was living in Boston.

What I was particularly struck by - aside from the obvious Secret Service men trying to "blend" into the crowd - were the men with rifles atop the buildings.

Which brings me around to Gov. Deval Patrick's visit to Amesbury Wednesday evening. There were some menacing-looking guys (who were actually quite nice, when I spoke to a couple of them) hovering around, but I checked the buildings and no men with rifles, that I could see.

I know I'm hyper-vigilant, but I kept scanning the area to see if there were any suspicious-looking characters, aside from the ones I know about in Amesbury who are mostly harmless.

Of course, nothing untoward happened and the Gov. was able to, from what I read today, enjoy dinner at Flatbread Pizza, just across the walkway from where he took questions from the crowd.

I was impressed with the way the Gov. fielded the questions, etc., and his wife is lovely (I had the honor of meeting her last December).

By the way, I would not have estimated the size of the crowd to be as large as did the DN reporter. But I was amused to see this correction in today's paper:

In an article in yesterday's edition on Gov. Deval Patrick's visit to Amesbury ("I'm here to listen to you," Page 1), Newburyport's Ron Klodenski was misquoted. Klodenski told Patrick, "We need you to strong-arm your Department of Environmental Protection," in regard to the Crow Lane landfill.

This is what I meant in my earlier post, about when I was a reporter covering the same events as the Daily - sometimes I wondered if the DN reporter and I had been in the same place! I kind of wondered when they had Ron's quote in there (since I didn't hear Ron say what they said he did), but I thought perhaps he said it during a time I was watching for snipers lurking in the bushes ...

Hyper-vigilance, btw, is what made me stop my sister from stepping out into a crosswalk on Massachusetts Ave. in Boston when the "Walk" sign came on - a car ran the red light and would have knocked her flying, possibly down onto the Central Artery.

Sometimes I like to identify that incident as prescience on my part, but I really think it was more the hyper-vigilance. It's identified as a disorder, did you know?

Clinton, also btw, has the brightest blue eyes I think I had ever seen. They were/are almost startling in their blueness.

There was a Secret Service agent standing next to me, and he sort of chuckled when everyone was exclaiming about the blue eyes (earlier, he had said to me, "This is exciting, huh?" It must have been a ploy of some sort to access if I had any evil intentions. Since he stayed put, maybe he concluded that I did! ... Nah, it's just that we were standing directly opposite Mike's Pastry, Clinton's destination.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Odor complaints re-surface at Crow Lane

Well, bless my soul, who'd a thunk that something like this would happen?

The recent odors wafting gently over the neighbors of our lovely landfill mean just one thing - the gas extraction system is not working. I think that's the one thing ... oh, yeah, it is the one thing.

Today's most popular post was, coincidentally, the one about the Gov. answering questions about the landfill. Followed by greenheads.

No, the Governor wasn't followed by greenheads (not any that I noticed anyway; if I had noticed one, I would have whipped out my fly swatter).

I like comparing what I wrote down happened at a meeting and what gets written up in the paper.

"I'm not here to make a speech. I'm really here to listen to you," Patrick told the audience, a mix of families with young kids, senior citizens, the mayors of Newburyport and Haverhill, half of Newburyport's City Council, and officials from neighboring communities.

The meeting was covered by Katie Farrell, who is the Amesbury reporter. What, no mention of the members of the Amesbury Municipal Council who were there? Just in case you're wondering - Roger Benson (standing in for Mayor Kezer), Mary Chatigny, Stephen Dunford, Anne Ferguson, Robert Gilday (?), James Lavoie, Joseph McMilleon, Allen Neale, and Jonathan Sherwood.

I think they were ALL there. Check that; I only got to cover a couple of meetings of the Muni Council, as I always referred to them when I wrote for the Amesbury News, but I did not recognize Gilday, if he was there.
I like this second version of the Gov. talking to Ron ... they were smiling at one another. Not sure what Jim Stiles was up to, though! Perhaps getting ready to clap.

Keep on the sunny side

I really am under the gun today and tomorrow, deadline-wise, but I did want to say something I was thinking about as I was driving home. And nearly colliding head-on with a truck because I was so lost in thought - and heat really gets to me.

Heaven forbid I should use the air conditioner in the Jetta! Or the one that's still sitting in the shed, for that matter ...

This whole blogging thing is very strange to me. I'm always writing stuff, changing it, deleting it, regretting it ...

But hey, I got a nice email from someone at the Richard III Society about my post on the Medieval king ...

So I'm watching the end of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" It's one of my favorite movies. And I figure that no matter what happens to those guys in the movie - all 4 of them - they stick together. They argue, they fight, one of them runs off when the goin' gets tough; but in the end, they are together.

Sort of like the book the movie's based on, I guess.

So here's to friendship, to bonhomie, and to my readers (even though I feel as if I'm sitting in a pub having a beer with them, and they've all got paper bags over their heads).

Hey, even in the movie, the guys are wearing disguises.

How fitting is all that? Sadly, the flood is about to come!

An extra-special book

A few weeks ago now, my friend Jennifer Karin Sidford gave me a copy of her new children's book.

It looked like a winner then, and it looks like a winner now that it's out in the shops.

The official storytelling launch party for The DreamStarter Book will be at 4 p.m. on Sunday (July 20) at Jabberwocky Bookshop in The Tannery (just about the best bookstore anywhere).

The DreamStarter Book contains 50 pages of story beginnings ... as in, Jennifer starts the story and the kids, with their parents, with whoever or alone, figure out where it goes from there.

In the first beginning, for example, a little boy looks in the mirror while brushing his teeth and sees a key inside the mirror. He reaches for the key, grabs the key and ... whee! You're off! (Her lead up is more expansive and literary than this, of course.)

All of the beginnings childhood imaginings and 'fears' ... castles, wolves, pirates, unicorns, dragons, Ninjas.

The Wolves of Scotland brought back memories of a book I read as a young adult, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, so when I read it, I actually started concocting a storyline to finish the story.

I think it's a great way to stimulate a child's imagination and maybe stimulate some future writers, as well as obviously interacting with your child(ren) in a meaningful way.

This is Jennifer's third published work. And no, she's not architect Andy Sidford's wife - she's married to Andy's twin, Chris. I just love that twin thing. Maybe Jennifer will write about it one day ...?

The DreamStarter Book

Cold Tree Press

Softcover; 63 pages (including ideas on how to use the book for activity time and as a game)


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greenheads #1

OK, so the hottest topic on my blog today was this post about the (then) approaching greenhead season. No comments, but the most hits of any other individual post.

As anyone who reads regularly knows, the greenheads are now here. Right here, in my porch. All of them.

Triple-D was laughing her ass off at me from her deck yesterday as I was swatting madly at the greenheads congregated on the screen of one of the windows (most of the others along the front I don't open because there are no screens on them).

I like it when they congregate - sometimes I can kill several of them with one swat!

Fortunately, for whatever reason, they don't come all the way into the house. Unlike the horse flies, which are not easily killed with one blow from the swatter and in any case are much harder to catch off guard (so to speak). Greenheads are just plain dumb.

I usually have the attitude of "live and let live" with insects (as I already mentioned). But I can't abide flies. I heard somewhere the other day that they pee something like once every 5 seconds. I just love getting up on my stool and cleaning the fly specks off the (white) beams in the main room.

It's so attractive.