Blogtoberfest Guest Post: Concord, By Joe Schneiderman

31 Oct

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.21.16 AMNotwithstanding that winter approaches, notwithstanding that the days end sooner, clear and sunny fall days are part of what make New England great. One is neither oppressed by humidity of summer nor taunted and frozen under a blue sky in winter. Rather, there is a cornucopia of color that one can simply enjoy. Fall vacations should be more frequent.

Last Sunday, October 20, I awoke in Marlborough, Massachusetts to one of those gorgeous days. In the month leading to that Sunday, I had been reading about Concord, Massachusetts, inspired by one of my heroines, Justice Martha Sosman of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. (Further discussion of Justice Sosman qua jurist can be found in last year’s Blgotoberfest Post.) Justice Sosman had lived in Concord all her life-indeed, when her mother died, she moved back in her aging father at their family home-and lived with him into his own advanced age until her own untimely death. Justice Sosman had also participated in a Concord Oral History Project (as had retired Chief Justice Herbert P. Wilkins) and painted a fascinating picture of the place. And, befittingly enough, October 20 was Justice Sosman’s birthday, although I was not consciously cognizant of this fact last year.

I originally set out from Marlborough uncertain of where I would head. But, somehow, it dawned me that Concord couldn’t be too much further. And, beyond Justice Sosman, I knew Concord’s unique place in our history. The sun was high and the sky was a full shade of blue after dreary clouds and rain through. The setting was perfect. So, fuck it. Concord was calling me. I would go for it.

I followed Boston Post Road/U.S. 20 east through Marlborough’s downtown, which eventually released me to Sudbury. I had no idea that Sudbury and Marlborough were ancient-that is, both communities were incorporated in the 17th Century-and there was the Wayside Inn to prove it. From the once urban edge of Marlborough, I was in the country again in Sudbury. Although not a formal state highway, a sign beckoned to the left-Sudbury Ctr., Concord. I turned and listened. Soon, I found myself in Sudbury Ctr., junctioning Route 27 at the Town Common, one direction would take me to Natick, another to Acton. History was well-preserved there-an ancient stone guidepost also pointed to those communities and others in Middlesex County, and, of course to Boston. (Those guideposts are part of what make driving through the wiles of Massachusetts fun-you will have an idea of where you are going even if you aren’t an official state highway, and are conspicuously absent in Connecticut.) But, there was the green sign with its’ side right arrow pointing to Concord. That’s where I would go. (And, I cannot remember it at the time, but, I was on, appropriately enough, Concord Road.)

Sudbury Center soon gave way to a shroud of woods, and the full fall palette. Endless open fields soon broke the shroud, some guarded by stone walls, houses occasionally appearing along the roadside. The sun was bright and the temperature was pleasant-I had my window down and I was smiling, savoring everything about it. The open road in New England of a Fall Day is a modern and more seasonable tribute to Robert Frost. Concord Road remained and became further rural, colonial farmhouses, farm land and open fields became my companion heading north. The bright sun and the hues of orange, yellow, and red contrasted against the fields and grass. Is this suburbia? Am I really so close to Boston? Have I actually stepped into a transporter and driven into Western Massachusetts? Am I going to encounter Andy Dufrense’s stone wall and Red’s money buried underneath?

Well, maybe that last thought didn’t really occur to me. But, eventually, I arrived in Concord. And, much to my surprise, the next sign read-to Route 2. So, I headed for Route 2, a bit of a Janus among Massachusetts highways. Scenic for much of its length, it also fluctuates a superhighway, depending on where you are. The fields turned into forests as Route 2 approached-a divided highway traversing and missing Concord Center.

Or was I on Route 126 this whole time coming into Concord from Sudbury and Lincoln? I cannot remember. I remember passing over railroad tracks, and I know that I was on Walden Street because I passed the Concord District Court and the Concord Firehouse, both of which are located on Walden Street…Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.21.26 AM

Regardless, I found my way into Concord Center. Beautiful homes and historic buildings (blocks, really) lined the streets, suburban jerkassdom had spared this downtown. People were out on the street, also savoring this weather and day, much as I was. Soon, I was at the green, and, much to my surprise, Route 62 appeared. One of the longest roads in the Commonwealth, Route 62 parallels(ish) Route 2, running from Barre out to somewhere in Essex County (the coast, viz-Beverly.)

And I had found it again. But, that was not my interest. And I thank you for indulging my roadgeekery. Lowell Road and signs for the Historic Park beckoned. Soon, I was on Liberty Street, and, finally, I was in Minute Man Historical Park, approaching North Bridge. The weather was warm, no doubt inspired by the sun. I popped into the Visitor’s Center, enjoyed the exhibits and the Ranger on duty, and, soon, I found out that there was Drilling as Minutemen at 1:30 at Hartwell’s Tavern. Having dumped tea in Boston Harbor, I knew where I would head later that day. My more compelling interest was to visit North Bridge.

From the Visitor’s Center/Headquarters, it’s a scenic downhill across open fields to North Bridge. The view is incredible, I could picture a Red Fox jaunty and happy coming up from the river bank. Soon, I was crossing the bridge. An old wooden structure, the Concord River flows northward below as a sizable obelisk sits sentinel at the other bank of the bridge, guarded by a tall and prominent Minuteman-at the site of the shot heard round the world.

Here is where our country was born-when the people of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Bedford, aScreen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.21.35 AMnd Acton defended their homes against the British. What happened to that spirit of community? What happened to that spirit of vigilance? What happened to that spirit of altruism? Are we simply doomed to repeat our mistakes and to beat on like boats against the current?

On the other hand, what does it matter now? The spirit of the people of Concord and the Minutemen live on, not as ominous spectres. They are a raison d’être for those of us who refuse to accept and want to improve our world. That should be legacy enough.

But enough of philosophy. What a gorgeous place to be on such a fall day. And there was so much more to behold. Not everyone preferred the history, some were walking dogs, some were even taking advantage of the Concord River.

Sitting on that river’s east bank was the Old Manse with a redcoat explaining its full history to those of us lucky visitors. A 1770 Colonial, the Old Manse (Scottish for Mansion) was the inspirational location of two Emersons (Reverend William and Ralph Waldo), and later, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. Had I more time, I would have likely gone inside. And, in a testament to civility and that the spectre of war would not consume us with bitterness or blitheness, sitting behind North Bridge was a monument to the Queen’s Redcoats who fought and gave their lives.Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.21.45 AM

But neither Emerson nor Hawthorne was the only one inspired in Concord. So too was Thoreau-which I did not know. Indeed, Concord was a center for abolitionist-and feminist-sentiment. Louisa May Alcott lived on the road to Bedford and protested for the vote. And, of course, Martha B. Sosman founded her all-women partners firm with furniture from the Sosman barn in Concord-and tirelessly strived to make the law of the Commonwealth sound. What finer place could there be for a Renaissance lawyer-historian-writer?

Time to head for Hartwell’s Tavern.

The downtown of Concord Center soon gave way to ruralness as I followed Cambridge Turnpike southeast and Concord soon became Lincoln. (This I did not know-that Concord and Lincoln were neighbors.) Unfortunately, construction and poor signage led me astray down Route 2, rather than Route 2A, which paralleled the Battle Road and the Tavern. But, I soon found my way again-urban bloodhound kicking in to smell my way along. I parked and I was able to tour the Tavern. However, there were not many tall folks when Hartwell built his tavern. So, I had to watch my head-much like Paul Revere and William Dawes (who were captured not far from the Tavern, but were able to warn Dr. Prescott of Concord who took refuge there.)Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.21.55 AM

Being tall soon proved a liability again-and I was the oldest and largest Minuteman recruit-and why none of the fathers and mothers joined the children (aged 5 to 12, or so) in the drill is beyond me. But, I wanted to serve as a Minuteman-and so I would. We were issued muskets, given strict drilling and formation orders, including to stand at attention, how and what direction to pivot. (I stood out and erred at least once. But, thankfully, I was not made to do pushups.) Our Commanding Officer did, however, impress upon us that we were the line of defense for the people of Concord-if we were able-bodied, we were to serve-and to be ready. So we marched, took up our firing positions, and BANG! And, our Commanding Officer was graceful and certified us as Minutemen-even me.

I wandered west along the Battle Road from Hartwell’s Tavern. Stoneposts, much smaller versions of the obelisk at North Bridge, sat along the gravely trail. 14 Miles to Boston Harbor? 14 Miles to Boston Harbor? Yes, Joe. You’re that close to Boston.Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.22.03 AM

At Merriam’s Corner, naturalists could divert to a trail to the vernal pool to see amphibian life. Not far beyond was the Bloody Angle. Harkening back to the Bloody Lane at Antietam (so I’ve been told by Ken Burns, I haven’t yet been to Antietam), a great skirmish was fought at this point on the border beyond Lincoln and Concord. Open fields and farmland, not dissimilar to what I had passed, allowed the militia to ambush the British on their retreat to Boston on April 19, including the Woburn Militia…Yet, behind the Bloody Angle, modernity crept in. There was a trail…leading to a parking lot. What was there, I did not know. But, I felt strangely out of place as I explored along that trial. How had this happened? I returned to the Battle Road and the Stoneposts that would lead me to Boston.

Our Commanding Officer was now drilling and demonstrating a musket. One musket could not do very much-it was inefficient, difficult to load and aim (hence why and how had poor a Minuteman earned his name). That being said, a line of muskets and militia could be-the musket balls would form an effective wall of ammunition.Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.22.15 AM

Guided by his colleague, our Commanding Officer marched, presented arms, made ready, and…

FIRED.

The sound was like standing next to a small explosion. Not deafening, but it certainly got your attention. A healthy puff of smoke followed. And, impressed at the spectacle, we applauded. I greeted the Commanding Officer, Ed, and thanked him.

I headed back to Concord Center from Hartwell’s Tavern. I remember the signs for Walden Pond (which I still haven’t visited yet, D’oh!). There was still daylight and daytime, and Sunday was lively, so, I went for a walkabout in Concord Center, window-shopping mainly. (Although, I want to say I bought something of some sort, but, I can’t remember.)

Concord Center was imminently walkable and savvy, there was an antiques store, kitchen store (my Mom would enjoy that), a cheese shop, the Main Street Market, the Concord Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.22.26 AMBookstore, even a Concord Toy Store. The Police Officer directing traffic was even genial. As the sun remained bright, I was glad to shed my jacket for my red oxford alone (a red oxford, I might add, I’ve had since age 15.) And not a single chain store offended the eye or the sense of justice. These are real people with real livelihoods doing things their own way. (If you can believe it, there’s even a lingerie store right on Main Street off the Town Common-which has been named Monument Square, right next to the site of the Milldam.) Concord Center reminded me of the one thing I pine for from my years in New York-not being per se reliant on a car and being able to walk places. Concord Center has that positive quality with treelined sidewalks (which exist in New York) and people there. (As I recall, I gave Justice Sosman a tout every time I spoke to anyone at length on the street or anywhere else.)

My walkabout inspired a catch-up phone call to my friend, Bob. Not having spoken in some time, we covered all the bases, including about that thing called relationships. The alley behind Main Street Market led to Keyes Road and, a quick turn sought cleverly (or maybe not…) put me on Main Street westbound. Businesses gave way to houses and Concord Academy. Eventually, a curious purple sign greeted me.Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.22.39 AM

Not surprisingly, I followed the sign. Houses soon gave way to businesses again, and the Concord Depot, befittingly, located on Thoreau Street. With a beautiful mural on the trainbound side, the Depot was still in use as a coffee shop and other businesses, and still other businesses, including New London style Pizza and a French Restaurant lined the other side of Thoreau Street. A Starbucks appeared at Sudbury Road opposite the Mobil Station. But those chains did not seem woefully out of place or casting pallor.

The sun gradually lowered in the sky, a chill entered the air-signals that I would eventually have to head for Hartford again. So, I walked back up Sudbury Road to downtown-a healthy mix of Victorians and Colonials (assuming I remember my architecture correctly)-aspirationals and inspirationals for ideal homes and spaces. Main Street soon appeared, and the Concord Free Public Library sat on the southwest corner. If it were open, I would have stopped in-the space looked magnificent from the outside. Books are friends and we deserve the right space to enjoy them-and the Concord Library looked like precisely that-with room to spare for history and culture.

Having fetched my jacket, I started looking for dinner. I wound up not searching very far, I was at Concord’s Colonial Inn in the Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 9.22.47 AMTap Room. Not having eaten of note (at least, I don’t remember having eaten) since breakfast, I was ready to eat. And I was a little chilled. I started with some soup and eventually opted for a burger-with NH Bacon. NH Bacon? New Hampshire Bacon? Yes, New Hampshire Bacon. There was some entertainment forthcoming, and, I inquired after but ultimately did not sing. The crowd was outgoing, and not surprisingly, I was able to hold court with them. (Which, I might add, is not a term from my lawyerly side. It is a term the Firemen used.) Coffee and dessert followed, and eventually, the clocked tolled 7:30, and it was time to head home.

The streets were empty but not deserted as I walked back to my car from Monument Square. To the contrary, traffic continued along Main Street/Route 62, and I was grateful for my jacket. The streets were also lit and there were businesses open, not many, but a few. The quiet wasn’t eerie-something I disdain in small towns and miss about New York. Concord therefore remained bright and felt special as I entered my Theresa (my car) and turned westbound for home.

Our story continues….

Route 62 remains a scenic tree-lined avenue all the way out of the Center, and will take you to West Concord, Maynard, and other points west. But, it was not my points west. I needed Route 2 again. So, I merged onto Elm Street, which did indeed bring me to Route 2 West-in the upper part of West Concord, on the other side of the Assabet River (the other river besides the Sudbury that flows into the Concord River in Concord.)

And we arrive finally at the abominable rotary. Concord has always been home to, well, well, well…It was first known as the Concord Reformatory, with its own railroad branch line (and now a rails to trails). Now it’s known as Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI)-Concord. And, sitting caddy corner to it is a State Police Barracks and the minimum security Northeastern Correctional Center, resembling a farm. And, lanes appear and disappear, Route 2 converges with Route 111 and Route 119, Barretts Mill Road diverges to one side, so does Commonwealth Avenue….It’s not fun to drive, especially for the first time at night. Hence the name “abominable rotary.” Concord gives way to Acton; Route 111 diverges to Boxborough. Ten minutes later, at Littleton, Route 2 connects to I-495, and is the beginning of the end, the way home, offering three wide lanes and the scenic views of the Wachusett range, a most pleasant ride to contemplate the day in Concord.

 

Joe Schneiderman is an attorney and a writer based in Connecticut.

A Blogtoberfest Favorite: Top 10 Halloween Haunted Homes

29 Oct

TopTenRealEstateDeals.com has the Top 10 frightening news stories on haunted homes, ghost towns and scary castles.

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The loud crash in the middle of the night. The lights that turn on by themselves. The scratching at your window on a blustery night that bleeds the courage from your veins. It’s Halloween, that spooky time of the year when ghosts, goblins and zombies might be just around the corner. Dracula’s Castle in Romania, scary haunted hotels, celebrity haunted mansions, and a Colorado ghost town for sale at $2 million, TopTenRealEstateDeals.com picks the Top 10 horror media news stories for 2014.

“American Ghost Towns”
Former gold mine and railroad boom towns, an abandoned amusement park, even an Alabama site that was planned as the state capitol. A look at former American boom towns that are now ghost towns.

“Top 10 Haunted Castles”
A frightening look at the world’s most haunted castles: Dracula’s Castle in Romania where the infamous vampire may have impaled thousands of his victims, the Bloody Chapel Castle in Ireland where prisoners were thrown into deep dungeons with sharp spikes protruding from the floor, and the Austrian Moorsham Castle where women suspected of being witches were tortured and killed.

“Colorado Ghost Town For Sale”
Uptop, Colorado was an actual ghost town when two sisters from Boston bought the empty hamlet in 2000. After years of restoration, the ghosts are gone and the sisters are selling for $2 million. The mountain location comes complete with a dance hall, train depot, log cabin, saloon and chapel.

“Famous Murder Homes For Sale”
What happens when a house that was the site of a gruesome murder or suicide goes on the market? NBC has the details on the Oscar Pistorius, Mary Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Jeffrey Dahmer, Nicole Brown Simpson, Heath Ledger, JonBenet Ramsey and Amy Winehouse death homes.

Murders, suicides and mysteries are at the center of haunted hotel legends across the United States. Glamorous hotels including the Biltmore in Miami, the Parker House in Boston, the Shoreham in Washington, D.C. and the Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans are upscale hotels that offer their guests the possibility of a ghost experience.

“Celebrity Haunted Homes”
Some celebrities seem to have it all. Money, fabulous jewelry, great cars and haunted homes. Nicolas Cage and Anne Rice both lived in haunted homes in New Orleans and Loretta Lynn’s Tennessee plantation home has several ghosts including the spirit of a Civil War soldier. Some people say that Marilyn Monroe’s ghost can be found at the Brentwood, California home where she died in 1962, and Lucille Ball’s ghost yucking it up at her long time home in Beverly Hills.

“World Famous Haunted Homes”
America’s spookiest, scariest, bone chilling homes in the United States. Homes of serial killers, celebrity suicides, Amityville Horror, Lizzie Borden, abandoned castles and other homes of ghosts, monsters and demons.

“Historic Haunted Homes”
Frank Stranahan moved from Ohio to the New River area, now known as Fort Lauderdale, as a young man in 1893. He became wealthy as a land owner building a thriving trading post, the area’s first post office, and the Stranahan House. However everything collapsed in the 1920s and Stranahan committed suicide when he tied an iron gate around his head and drowned in the river in front of his home. His home is now a haunted museum with up to six ghosts in the middle of the upscale Fort Lauderdale condo corridor. Tour five historic haunted homes including a Civil War hospital in Virginia, Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee mansion and the Stranahan House.

“Top 10 Movie Haunted Homes”
A look at ten scary movie homes including the English manor Bly House from “The Innocents,” the Colorado Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and “The Amityville Horror” home.

“Most Americans Will Buy a Haunted House”
According to a Realtor.com survey, 62 percent of Americans would consider buying a haunted house.

Visit TopTenRealEstateDeals.com for more celebrity, historic, famous and ‘spooktacular’ homes for sale.

Blogtoberfest Guest Post: Three Days in October, by Joseph Bednar

24 Oct
October 29, 2011

I’ve had better Saturdays, and that’s before the snow arrived.

My wife and I spent the afternoon starting a big kitchen project, installing a tile backsplash between the countertops and cabinets. We’d already several hundred dollars on the tile, and I would have been happy coughing up another $500 to have someone come in and cement it up.

But Jenn was confident we could do it, and she’s usually right about those things. Once we got the pattern down, she sawed pieces with a tile cutter in the driveway, then applied a coat of mud to a section of wall, and I’d follow by laying each individual piece. It was slow, methodical work, and honestly, I don’t relish big household projects with the gusto Jenn does. But I have to say, it looks pretty awesome today.

The forecast called for snow across Massachusetts Saturday evening, which was odd for late October, and not ideal for the dogs; besides our own pair of springer spaniels, we were dogsitting two golden retrievers, and would have preferred a dry weekend so they could spend lots of time outside in the fenced yard. But maybe, we thought, it wouldn’t be a lot of snow.

By late afternoon, however, it was coming down hard — to the point where Jenn started to worry about the dogwood outside our back porch. Her mom had planted it decades ago, and when Jenn built a little mulch garden beside our patio, she made the tree, maybe a dozen feet tall, the centerpiece of the design. We love that dogwood. But the early snow — wet and heavy — was bending the branches troublingly low, so I went out with a big broom and shook the snow off the branches, soaking myself in the process. But the snow kept piling up on the branches, so I did it again a little later. And again. And again.

We lost power around 8:30 p.m., and wound up sitting by candlelight in the living room with our 6-year-old son, Nate, and four nervous, panty dogs. After he went to bed, we stayed up a little longer, looking out the big bay window at the snow and the irregular flashes of greenish lightning — or what we thought was lightning. That burst of color, we learned later, was actually a power line snapping and landing on wet snow. We saw a lot of flashes.

Eventually, after shaking off the dogwood one last time, we retired to bed. I fell asleep quickly, but Jenn didn’t; she was too worried about the trees, which audibly groaned and creaked outside. As she posted on Facebook around midnight, “Can’t sleep. Just lying here listening to trees falling and Joe snoring.” And later, just before 1:30: “Just lost a whole tree and large branch. Extremely freaky night. Can’t believe Joe is sleeping thru this. Oops, something’s cracking, going to check it out.”

If the night had a soundtrack — besides the gusting wind, cracking branches, and ice sheeting against the windows — it might have been Ojo Taylor’s “Animals and Trees”:

“The wind is up at 3 a.m. The power’s down till God knows when.

A candle does a minuet, moving shadows and silhouettes.

Silence, please: all the world is on its knees.

Mother Earth will have her say. Mother Earth will have her way.”

But still I slept. I don’t think Jenn ever did.

October 30, 2011

I awoke to the clatter and whine of snowblowers and chainsaws.

It was a clear day, with muted skies in the morning giving away to searing blue later on. Temperatures, chilly at dawn, would eventually rise into the 50s, melting most of the snow — well over a foot, in fact — and leaving the world a slushy mass of wet, jagged branches.

Every yard — and, unfortunately, several damaged roofs — were covered in them. Dozens of smaller trees had been plucked out by the roots because the unfrozen ground wasn’t ready to bear the snow weight. We were lucky; we lost all or part of seven trees, but nothing fell on the house, or even the shed, deck, or backyard fence. Even the dogwood, which bowed dangerously during the night, survived and regained its shape in the morning.

People were walking up and down the street, marveling at the damage, but also the stark beauty. In the early hours, before the mercury crept up, the fallen branches lay caked in thick snow. Everything would be ugly soon enough, as city workers disposed of half-fallen branches, leaving the treescape jagged and raw, but for a moment, the world was mostly calm — the grinding chainsaws aside — and oddly pretty.

No one had power, and frankly, we didn’t expect to get it back anytime soon. So we ate lunch that day next door, in a circle of fold-up chairs in Jenn’s sister’s driveway. (We live next door to her brother as well, at one end of a horseshoe-shaped street named after their grandfather.) We figured we’d be throwing out our refrigerated food soon enough, so everyone brought over what they had, and we grilled dogs, burgers, and beans, eating on paper plates in our laps. We chatted and laughed and counted our blessings.

But then the sun went down, and the rustic charm of having no power became oppressive. The house cooled quickly, even after the warmish day. Meanwhile, we needed milk for cereal, which was all Jenn or the kid wanted for dinner, so I jumped in my SUV and headed to a Stop & Shop we’d heard was open, about four miles away. While driving, I realized I had no gas — I mean, none — but I kept going, figuring one of the gas stations near the store might be open as well.

The traffic on Memorial Drive leading to the supermarket was terrible. Everyone, it seemed, was converging on this one patch of Chicopee rumored to have power, and as I crept along, the digital meter that showed how many miles I had left in the tank dropped from 3 to 2 to 1 to 0. Once at Stop & Shop, my heart sunk; only one gas station was open, and the line at each pump was probably 30 cars long. So I bought my milk, got back in the car, and headed home, hoping the fuel gauge was programmed with a tiny bit of leeway. I probably should have parked somewhere and had Jenn pick me up, but my phone had run out of charge hours ago.

“And then to me she softly speaks, screaming in silence mysteries

of long ago and far away —
the world had always lived this way.

Somehow I know she points her finger at my soul.

I’m a child left all alone. I’m an orphan without a home.”

But I managed to make it home, and everyone ate their cereal, and then … just went to bed. After a day of cutting and dragging branches across the yard, no one was really in a talking mood; warm blankets and a long sleep made more sense. So we snuffed the candles and called it a day.

October 31, 2011

Thanks to a Cumberland Farms near our house that unexpectedly opened Monday morning, I was able to drive to work, as downtown Springfield’s block of office towers isn’t quite as vulnerable to power outages as tree-lined, residential streets. I don’t remember if our son, who was in first grade at the time, had school; if not, he surely spent the day at one of our workplaces, reading and drawing pictures and building Legos.

The previous night had been cold, and we were worried about the pipes freezing if the temperature dropped and the power didn’t return. Jenn and I were able to charge our phones at work, though, so at least we had some communication with the outside world.

Fortunately, Halloween would be our last day without power. Our city runs an electric utility that’s separate from the region’s larger energy conglomerates, and linemen had been working around the clock since Saturday to restore power, one neighborhood at a time. Other Western Massachusetts communities — from urban centers like Springfield to little burgs like Monson, where another of Jenn’s sisters lives, and which had been ravaged by a tornado just five months earlier — would be offline for more than a week.

We still had no power as Monday evening fell, but no way was our son missing out on trick-or-treating. So Jenn grabbed a battery-powered lantern and walked him around our circle, looking for signs of life in each window. Even neighbors who could offer no candy were polite, and while he didn’t collect many treats, he was happy to make the effort. There was a certain appeal to treading the moonlit street, hunting and gathering for sustenance like the tribes of old, had they been after Twizzlers and SweeTarts, rather than roots, berries, and the occasional rabbit.

It remains, in fact, a fondly remembered Halloween. After the two of them returned with their meager haul, we again sat in our candlelit living room, four dogs at our feet, and told stories. I probably shared the one about the mid-’70s blackout in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when the lights went out just after Mom served a meal with a side of cooked spinach. I liked it, as opposed to raw, leafy spinach (blecch), so for years afterward, when Mom said we were having spinach with dinner, I’d ask, “the kind from the blackout?”

We were chilly, even under sweatshirts and throw blankets, as we shared memories and relaxed with our dog pack, but I remember just enjoying the time together — the bond of family, the peace of warm thoughts, on an odd, cold Halloween night.

“The television, blind and dumb. The window beckons me; I come.

I see animals and trees. I catch a glimpse of mystery.

Progress, though, will soon return to steal that which I have learned

and ridicule the candle’s flame. Tomorrow, all will be the same.”

And then, at 8:30, almost 48 hours to the minute after we lost power, the lights flickered back on, and the boiler in the basement clicked to life. As my wife shared on Facebook soon after, “Power back on!!! Go Chicopee Electric, we love you!” The following weekend, we were out raking leaves and twigs when one of the utility’s trucks lumbered by. We, and others working in their yards, turned to the road and loudly applauded.

After our son went to bed, the house slowly filling with heat, we stayed up and watched the Chiefs outlast the Chargers in overtime, 23-20. I’d have to go shopping the next day to replace everything from the fridge that I had bagged and tossed out earlier in the evening, but overall, life was good — much better, in fact, than for all the folks in our region who would have to live with the cold and the oppressive nighttime darkness for another week.

It had been a charming, if slightly bone-chilling, Halloween. But we’re modern folks. Give me light. Give me heat. Give me Monday night football.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.20.42 PMJoe Bednar is a business and healthcare writer from Chicopee. At Slurrify, his latest personal blog, he’s counting down his 200 favorite albums and telling his unexciting life story out of order

THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WINTER

19 Oct

writerjax:

An out-of-this-world October post from danspace77! Follow his Instagram – an awesome photo and mini-lesson in astronomy every day.

Originally posted on danspace77:

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Photo Credit & Copyright: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni. CLICK photo for full size and see below for links.

Let’s keep Halloween week rolling! Every year in the northern hemisphere as summer begins to cool and the nights begin to grow longer, IC2118 or as it’s known, the “Witch Head Nebula” begins to appear nightly. Located approximately 900 light years distant in the constellation of Eridanus (yep, not Orion), the Wicked Witch of the Winter (as I call her) is actually a 50 light year-long reflection nebula that’s being illuminated by the famous blue supergiant Rigel (not shown) the lest foot of Orion. If you have a photo of the constellation Orion and it’s at an anatomically heads-up position, at the bottom right you will find Rigel and to the right of the star you will see the witches face. It will however be upside down though so you may…

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Stephen King’s Family Friendly Apple Orchard

18 Oct

Growing up, trips to Maine in October consisted of weekends at my parents’ IMG_8853‘Maine House,’ the Fryeburg Fair, and marathon apple-picking sessions at McSherry’s Orchard in the town of Sweden.

I’d run through the trees, plucking macs, red delicious, and cortlands from low-hanging branches and gradually gaining confidence on the ladders, reaching higher and higher with every tree for bright, red fruit on the highest boughs.

I revisited the orchard on Columbus Day weekend; today, it’s known as Pietree, and there’s another Octobery aspect to it in addition to the apple harvest. In danger of being razed and turned into condos a few years ago, a certain horror-writing duo stepped in and bought the orchards, making a slew of improvements along the way.

Some betray my memories:  bare flatbeds towed by tractors that we used to run and jump on to as they passed have been replaced with wagons with benches, stairs, and regular stops. The ladders have given way to hand-held fruit-picking poles. And the wooden bushel boxes we used to fill are now $18 plastic bags.

Others, though, are welcome additions: the rocking chairs in the front yard, the IMG_8865warm cider donuts, and the hand-painted outdoor murals, to name a few.

After picking far too many apples for two people to consume without gastric distress, we moved on to a tiny Fall Festival at the Lovell Historical Society, where a dollar donation bought you all the treats you could eat, fresh-pressed apple juice, and a tour around the society’s collection of antiques and displays of how Maine life treated the locals in the 1800s.

It was all very bucolic … and a nice dose of nostalgia, harkening back to the days when life was as simple as staying put on a wooden ladder and filling a box with apples.

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Blogtoberfest Guest Post: The Art of Happy Hens, by Terry Golson

16 Oct

The Art of Happy Hens:  How to Keep Chickens Healthy and Happy in An Urban Backyard

How to Keep Chickens Healthy and Happy in An Urban Backyard

Increasingly, urban dwellers are choosing to raise chickens and embrace their inner farmer. There’s good reason for this — hens are the smallest of the domestic farm animals and the easiest to keep in a backyard. They are friendly birds that lay eggs and contribute nutrients to the compost pile. That said, chickens only thrive if they are provided with the right environment and care.

Home Sweet Home: Setting Up the Coop

Your chickens should live in a coop, but before you set up shop, keep this in mind: Chickens need more space than you may think. Set aside four square feet of floor space per hen, minimum. Less than that and hens will have behavioral issues, such as feather picking and bullying. Even if you have a small backyard, it’s not a great idea to keep just one hen. Chickens are flock animals and need to be with others of their kind. Start with a minimum of three chicks. By the way, a rooster is not necessary for the hens to lay eggs or to get along with each other. It’s okay to keep it to just girls in that urban flock.

Best Breeds For The Backyard

The coop should have height, too; a low box won’t cut it. Hens don’t sleep in nests, but on roosts. Since chickens have best friends, they like to cozy up next to each other (and stay away from the hens that they don’t like). At bedtime your chickens will jostle for a favorite spot next to their buddies. Ideally, the coop should accommodate several roosts at different heights. A wooden ladder, leaning against the wall — make sure to attach it so it doesn’t fall — makes an excellent roost. Plan on a minimum of six linear inches per hen. The lowest roost should be at least eighteen inches off of the floor of the coop. This is because chickens poop (a lot!) when they sleep. Chicken manure is 75 percent liquid, which evaporates and dampens the air in the coop. As the manure decomposes, it gives off ammonia fumes. You don’t want your flock breathing any of that in as they sleep, because too much exposure can lead to respiratory diseases. The further from the manure the girls are, the more healthy the environment.

Space Needed Inside Coop

Fresh and Clean: Maintaining the Coop

To improve air quality and control flies, cover the floor of the coop with absorbent bedding, like pine shavings, and remove manure before it piles up. A fine-tined pitchfork is a great tool to keep the manure skipped out. Set aside just five minutes each morning to pick out the waste. Once a week do a more thorough cleaning, and every few months, remove all bedding and start fresh. Even a small coop in a city yard requires tools, including that pitchfork, a muck bucket, and a scrub brush for the waterer. Plan on a storage space for tools, feed,and shavings, in or near the coop — it will make chicken keeping that much easier.

Fresh, dry air is essential for your flock’s well being. Good ventilation makes a huge difference in air quality. Install vents along the eaves, windows that open, and, if possible, a cupola that pulls air up and out through the roof. But ventilation is a slippery slop since hens should not be housed in a drafty structure. This is why the chicken door (often called a pop hole) is only slightly larger than the hens themselves. The door allows hens to go in and out, but keeps wind and driving rain at bay. Conversely, it’s not good for the flock’s health to have a closed-up coop, as the air will be dusty, damp, and harbor pathogens. Even in the winter, don’t be tempted to seal it up tight.

Windows have additional benefits beyond letting in fresh air. Sunlight is necessary for egg laying and to stave off disease. Chickens can’t see in the dark. If your coop looks like a windowless doghouse, your hens will stay put on their roosts, even if the sun is shining outside. They won’t eat enough to be able to make eggs. And if your hens are in the dark, they won’t lay them either. If they’re not up and about and exercising, chickens are prone to disease. Sunlight is also a natural disinfectant. So plan on a coop with windows and let that sun shine in.

Hens lay eggs inside of the coop in nesting boxes. These should be lower than the roosts (so that the hens won’t sleep in them) and about 16-inches square.  Three boxes are plenty for a flock of up to a dozen hens — they’ll all try to crowd into one even if the others are empty.

Chickens need plenty of room to roam outside of the coop, too. Most urban chickens are confined to a fenced run (for predator protection and to keep them in place — hens do wander.) Eight square feet per chicken in the pen is the minimum allotment, but more is better. Hens spend most of their day scratching the ground and the dirt in the runs packs down into an impermeable base. Occasionally turn the soil over with a pitchfork and add coarse sand to improve drainage. Loose earth makes the hens happy because they take dust baths in it, which is a communal activity that the hens enjoy. Dry dirt under the feathers also helps reduce any external parasites that the hens might harbor.

Space Needed Outside Pen

Safe and Sound: Protecting the Coop

Unfortunately, there are many predators that want a chicken or egg dinner, including foxes, raccoons, opossums, and black snakes. Hawks and owls are hunters from above.Good fencing is a must — rats can gnaw through chicken wire. Urban flocks are best protected by wire hardware cloth. Extend it below the ground by eight inches to deter digging predators. Cover the run with more hardware cloth or hawk netting as well. Keep away burrowing animals by installing a gravel trench around the perimeter of the pen. To deter mice and other vermin, keep the sides of the coop clear of woodpiles, clutter, and other things rodents like to hide in.

No fencing is secure against nighttime predators (weasels can slip through a 2-inch gap!). Always close your hens inside the coop at night. If you can’t be home at dusk, purchase an automatic door. But don’t worry, the chickens happily put themselves to bed as soon as it gets dark, and will all be inside before the door closes behind them.

Healthy Hens: Feeding Your Flock

Beyond keeping your chickens safe, the next order of business is food and water. It is best to have dispensers inside the coop where the pellets will stay dry. If there’s no space inside your coop for a feeder and waterer, then hang them outside under shelter during the day and store the feed inside a galvanized can each night (so you don’t feed mice and other critters).

Hens need proper nutrition to produce eggs and regrow feathers during the molt. Start with a quality laying hen pellet, which should have the optimum protein content of 16 percent. Although chickens love scratch corn, it isn’t necessary. In fact, feeding too much corn can lower your flock’s protein consumption, which can lead to thin-shelled eggs and may cause liver disease. Feed your flock corn and other carbohydrates — such as bread and leftover pasta —sparingly. On the other end of the spectrum, too much protein (often given in the form of mealworm treats) can cause kidney disease. Healthy additions to a hen’s diet are vegetables and fruits, such as pumpkins, zucchini, and apples. But don’t chop them up — pecking at whole vegetables can keep your flock busy.

Chickens require two supplements to their diet: oyster shell for calcium (to build strong eggs) and granite grit (to aid in digestion.) Offer these items to your flock free choice. A source of clean, fresh water is of the utmost importance. Dispensers designed for poultry will keep the water flowing and clean.

The average six-pound hen will eat upwards of four ounces of feed and drink four ounces of water a day. She’ll also produce four ounces of manure daily and her egg weighs about two ounces. Keep her glossy and healthy with a balanced diet.

Healthy Hen Eating

Coop Comfort: Managing Temperatures

Your hens will be stressed by extremes in the weather. Although you can’t control Mother Nature, you can house and care for your flock to minimize the negative effects of bad weather. Chickens are prone to respiratory diseases, so it’s essential to keep their housing dry. As mentioned earlier, ventilation inside the coop is key. It’s crucial to keep their pen dry, too. Standing around in muddy pens will leave your hens susceptible to illness, so do what you can to improve drainage and give them outside roosts to get out of the muck.

Most new chicken keepers worry about their hens staying warm during the winter. Actually, cold is rarely a problem. A chicken has about 9,000 feathers, which keep her plenty toasty. Don’t use a heater, which is unnecessary and is always a fire hazard (chickens create a lot of dust and the air in the coop is highly flammable.) Hens do need to stay out of strong winds and they appreciate it if you shovel snow out of their pen. The most important winter chore is to keep the waterer from freezing. Even a couple of hours without fresh flowing water can cause health issues. A heated metal pad designed for use under waterers is available at most feed stores.

Do worry when the temperature soars. Chickens are prone to heat stress and will die in extreme hot weather if there’s nowhere to escape the sun. Put up a shade tarp if necessary. Chickens won’t drink warm water, so provide cool water in a shady spot. When temperatures near triple digits, cool things off by hosing the roof of the coop and the dirt in the pen. Some coops can benefit from a fan to move the air.

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Chickens are curious, active animals that get bored and will develop bad habits (like eating feathers off of each other) if kept in an improper environment. However, they’re easily entertained and there are plenty of ways to enrich their lives. If their enclosure doesn’t have loose, dry dirt to dust bathe in, put a kitty litter tub filled with sand into the pen. Provide outside roosts or a stepladder and stumps for the hens to stand and roost on. Give them a hard winter squash that requires hours of pecking to eat. Hang a wild bird suet feeder in the coop and fill it with kale and other greens. Also, spend time with your hens — they really do like human company.

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Terry Golson
Terry Golson has kept a small flock of chickens for twenty years. For the last ten years she has shared those hens (and goats, dogs, and rabbit) with a worldwide audience via HenCam.com, where she has live cams on her animals, writes a daily blog about the goings on in her backyard, and provides sensible advice for the backyard chicken keeper. Terry gives chicken keeping workshops and does school visits (with a hen in tow!) She’s appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, and has been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Terry is the author five cookbooks, including The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) a picture book starring her hens, Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic) and postcard books of vintage photographs of farm animals. You can contact Terry through HenCam.

Blogtoberfest Guest Post: Soul Mates: The Myth, The Legend by Roberta Karant

15 Oct
I Miss my Soulmate, by PhoenixLily via flickr

       I Miss My Soulmate, by PhoenixLily via flickr

Since the beginning of recorded time, we know that people couple and pair up for a variety of reasons.  It is only a recent phenomenon that we have put all of our desires into one individual whom we refer to as our “Soul Mate.”  I think that what this is supposed to mean, is that we are pre-ordained in the cosmos to search high and low among the 6.5 billion people in the world, until finally, one day, Eureka! We stumble upon each other and call ourselves “Soul Mates.”  Sounds to me like some invention of the Hallmark Card Company.  They should stick to making those sappy Hallmark Hall of Fame movies – movies that I love by the way (more about that in another article).

The definition of “Soul Mate” that I like best is “you have now found the ONE person who truly understands you.”  There’s a ton of assumptions here – the first being that you truly understand yourself!  How many of us go through our lives totally unaware that we’re unaware? We have excuses upon excuses why we do what we do without ever looking inward to see what makes us tick.  And are we taught to believe that somewhere in our early lives, we can connect with the one person who “gets” us? That all works until the first time your “Soul Mate” pisses you off by walking out of the room before you finished telling him (in painstaking detail) about the argument you had with your sister over how you’re going to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, and all the sides.

As a sociologist, I always look to see who these ridiculous social constructions serve? Who’s getting the most out of this “Soul Mate” thing?  Well, as I said before, it makes for a good greeting card.  But beyond that, how did we get to put our life partner into this package that included: best friend, exclusive sexual partner, only parent of our children, sole supporter (both financially and emotionally), and our loyal and trusted confidant?

Until recent history, the concept of marriage served mainly the upper classes so that families could form alliances, and produce heirs.  Inheritance was protected and remained in the family.  With the rise of the middle class, and the diminished influence of families in mate choice, marriage selection put the power into the hands of the individual.  Marriage also went from being merely a religious institution to one where the State claimed a stake.  Therefore, the state was able to step into the role that the family had previously taken and it served as a means of social control.  Who you could marry became the interest of legislators and policy makers rather than individual predilection.  The concept of “Soul Mate” was a means to connect individuals for the purpose of long term unions that wouldn’t be easily broken.  Well, they never figured into the equation the social changes concerning divorce that have taken place in western civilization.  Given that “love” is such a fragile emotion, and given the greatest invention in human history – no, it’s not fire – it’s birth control – women now have more options than ever before.   And by the way, it’s mainly women who initiate divorce, two to one.  For many “forever” lasts only as long as the “love” lasts.  I don’t mean to frivolous, falling out of love is not the only reason for dissolution of a relationship.  I am well aware that there are many other variables to consider.  But getting back to “Soul Mate,” we can see how the concept can continue to influence and play a role in coupling for individuals.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I thought my first love was my “Soul Mate” but I was mistaken?   Now that I’ve met this person, I really know the meaning of the term “Soul Mate.”  It continues to serve as the litmus test for mate selection even though its meaning has become watered down as we engage in the activity of serial monogamy, which seems to work for most of us.   Since we are tribal people, most of us go through our daily lives with a metaphorical chorus commenting on our behavior.  This is similar to the collective voice much like that in ancient Greece.  This chorus serves to underscore and give commentary to our actions.  It’s a way of enforcing social customs and emphasizing the way things are done.  Because of this, very few of us would admit to our family, friends, others in our milieu that we’re marrying for money, or security, or as an antidote to loneliness.   We claim that we found our “Soul Mate,” and that satisfies the masses.  Now we can buy our expensive engagement ring, and pay for an unbelievable party that, depending on what your social and financial circumstances are, can cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So let’s get back to the question “who does this serve?”  Hmm I think you know the answer.  If you’re still not convinced that the State has an investment in your marriage, try getting out of the contract.  That’s when your “Soul Mate,” becomes a flesh eating virus who relies on the legal system to do what they do best.  And that’s to make sure that if you didn’t uphold your part of the bargain that you pay “until death do you part” in one way or another.

Just one more comment about “Soul Mate.”  Yesterday was a rainy TV watching day for me and my “Soul Mate.”  On 3 separate shows, they used the term “Soul Mate.”  The one we liked best was the Lucky Dog Show, when the adoptive doggie mommy met her new pet she referred to him as guess what??  You got it!  Her Soul Mate!

Roberta Karant

Roberta Karant is a writer and a sociologist based in New York.

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