Wednesday, September 22, 2010

4am and all is well

So it is 4am and I am wide awake! Kevin will oftentimes wake up in the middle of the night and come into our bed. I usually never hear him or if I do, I am too tired to put him back to his bed. But tonight I did put him back and he just came back a few minutes later. I didn't want to put up a fight and since he was taking up so much room on the bed I caved and went to the couch. But by then I was pretty awake. I watched an episode of "Pawn Stars" from our DVR and then tried to fall asleep. But, as I was laying there on the couch I got an amazing idea for a school assembly I am planning for November and the adrenalin just jolted through me.

I was invited to appear at a local cable access show in Lowell this morning at 6am to discuss blogging and local politics so since I have to get up early anyway, I figured I'd just stay awake at this point. The show, called "City Life", airs on Lowell public access and is live everyday from 6am-8am. The guy who runs it is actually a funeral home director and the show is done right from his funeral home. He turns one of the rooms into a studio and he has all the equipment there for the production of the show. Lynn and I have been watching the HBO show about a family who runs a funeral home, "Six Feet Under", on DVD lately so I have an ice breaker with the host. I am appearing with two other bloggers from Lowell, Richard Howe and Gerry Nutter. I've met Gerry before but not Richard. Howe is also the Register of Deeds for Middlesex North and the granddaddy of local bloggers so I am looking forward to meeting him.

I also wide awake because this is a HUGE week at my school. Tonight we have our annual College Fair (one of the biggest in the state) and I am helping out with the parking. The good part is that we get a ton of food to feed the college representatives and there is always a lot left over at the end of the night! This year is also our school's 40th anniversary and we have a number of events planned this week to kick things off, including a banquet tomorrow night with many, many special guests including a bishop who is an alum of our school. He is also saying Mass for our students on Friday morning and then we're taking him out to dinner on Friday night and he is then attending our homecoming football game.

So yeah, I can see why I am not sleeping!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back to campus

Every year, my friends Dan and Dave (aka Puopolo and Thornhill) and I head up to our alma mater, Saint Anselm College, for the annual Homecoming Game. We don't really go for the game as the team is always pretty bad. It's more just a tradition and a chance to catch up. A couple of years ago, Dan bought a house in Shapleigh, Maine so now we head up there after the game for the night. It's become a fun annual tradition.

Unfortunately, Dave can't make it to Dan's house this year but he will be going to the game. I have to work tomorrow night as the students are decorating the gym for a pep rally so I am just going to stay in Maine until the afternoon and then head to school. I'll miss the kids but it's only one night.

Looking ahead, I have something at work almost every night next week: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (and a Mass on Sunday). Busy week but it will be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Election musings

Big night in Massachusetts politics (as well as New Hampshire, Delaware, and a few other states). Here in the Merrimack Valley, State Rep. Barry Finegold won the Democratic nomination for the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Susan Tucker. Finegold is a liberal's liberal and I cannot believe he won. The district is made up of Lawrence, Andover, Tewksbury, and Dracut. He did not win Dracut (thank goodness) but did win Lawrence and Andover. I voted for Jack Wilson, a reasonable Democrat. In Lowell, Eileen Donoghue beat Chris Doherty for the state Senate seat there. I cannot stand Donoghue but Doherty was no better.

In statewide primaries, hack Steve Grossman beat Steve Murphy for Treasurer and Suzanne Bump took the Auditor's election. I took a Democratic ballot this morning and voted for Murphy and Bump but I will be voting for the Republicans in November.

Happy to see Rep. Stephen Lynch survive his primary in the 9th Congressional District. Lynch is a solid guy, an old school Democrat and I hope he gets re-elected. I am worried, however, that overall the Republicans have nominated some unelectable people. The nominee for the GOP in my congressional district stands no chance nor do many legislative nominees. The GOP has no farm team so they've had to rely on nobodies and wingnuts to run for office this year. It's not going to pretty this fall, I am worried. The GOP needs to recruit people to run for local boards and get their town/city/ward committees active. The party risks being run by Tea Party folks with no appeal to centrists. I lean right but the Tea Party doesn't appeal to me at all, there are just too many crazies in that group. The Democrats had the same problem after 2004 and they did a masterful job of getting more conservative people to run as Democrats and they ended up winning posts in states like Montana.

I also worry that with Charlie Baker's campaign hurting, the party will make the same mistake they've made in the past and devote all of their energy to that race while forgetting the down ballot races. If they keep focusing on the top, they'll never build up from the bottom.

Let this be a lesson to them for 2012.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Busy week...quiet weekend...insane weeks ahead

I am still getting used to the school year. I teach 6 classes this year (4 different classes!), have one study hall, and one free period. However, between now and next week, I am spending my free period with the administration and others in a daily meeting to go over final plans for a big banquet that is one week from Thursday. So I have little time during the day to get correcting and planning done and of course it's impossible to do any work at home until Kevin has gone to bed.

Anyway, I have to attend a meeting at school tomorrow night, Parent's Night on Tuesday night, and NHS inductions on Wednesday night. This Saturday I am getting together with my friends Dan and Bill for the annual Homecoming Game at our alma mater, Saint Anselm College, and then a night away at Dan's lake house in Maine. We do this every year and ever since Dan bought his house in Maine, we've added that to the schedule. We look forward to it every year and I am grateful that Lynn lets me keep going.

Next week, we have Pep Rally Decorating on Sunday night, College Fair on Wednesday night, Banquet on Thursday night, homecoming game on Friday night, alumni reception on Saturday night, and alumni mass on Sunday morning.

Then, I go away the first Sunday in October until that Wednesday. I am not going far, just Arlington but I am staying at a hotel in Burlington. I am part of a team visiting Arlington Catholic High School for their decennial accreditation. They pay for our hotel room and expenses which is very, very nice. I am not going to lie - having my own hotel room for three nights? Pretty sweet, even if it's in Burlington and I'll hardly be there. We work from 7am until 10pm or later so the room is just for sleeping. But it should be a great experience, especially since my school is up for its own visit in March and I am a tri-chair for that visit.

But again, I would not trade anything for this. Go back to the corporate world? Hell no. I have never once ever had second thoughts, not once, not ever. I work more, I get paid less, and I have more stress. But I am 500000000 times happier and fulfilled.

Monday, September 6, 2010

One last day

You didn't think I would let my last day of the extra long weekend go away quietly did you? This morning we all headed over to Topsfield to visit Bradley Palmer State Park. This is the former estate of Bradley Palmer, an early 20th century businessman/politico who advised Woodrow Wilson at Versailles and got caught up in the Teapot Dome Scandal. The park is mostly trails and there were tons of people riding their horses. The reason we went was for the wading pool the park has there. It was very nice - it was a good size, was fenced in, there was plenty of places to sit, a play area, bathrooms, etc. Kevin had a lot of fun but it was chilly today so he got pretty cold after a while. He was in the pool shivering like a leaf at one point!

After lunch and some play on the playground we headed out. We had to go to Hampton as one renter was leaving the cottage and another was coming in. There was some miscommunication so the person leaving didn't know another renter was coming in so we were there later than we had planned. But we killed some time walking on the rocks, playing on the beach, and hanging out with some friends who live down the street from the cottages.

But alas it's now back to reality. I have a ton of work to do tonight and the weeks ahead are going to be very busy and quite stressful. In addition to my six classes, I am working on two major projects at school, and I am going away for a few days in early October as part of a team visiting a high school as part of their decennial accredition. So I have to read a ton of documents to prepare for that, study up on the school, etc. This is all a ton of fun for me but with two kids, it does get a little stressful. But of course, I would not trade this life for all the money in the world.

Voting with their feet

Fascinating article in the Boston Globe yesterday about the number of Massachusetts residents who choose to attend out of state colleges rather than spending about half of the money to go to UMass Amherst. Some interesting stats - in the past ten years, the number of Massachusetts residents attending UConn is up 70%, 60% at UNH, and 50% at UVM. Some say the reasons are many: UMass' lackluster campus, the decline in the number of faculty, and their reputation as Zoo Mass.

I visited UMass a couple of times in the mid-90's when my friend Neil was attending there. Coming from a small, bucolic, Catholic college, UMass was a shocker to me and I wasn't impressed with the facilities. Hopefully over time they can address some of these problems as I'd love to see our state have a top-notch state university system. But, as usual, the money is being directed at hacks, layabouts, and illegals while our state parks and state universities are underfunded. The parks and schools deserve our money, not Gov. Deval Patrick's neighbor and Tim Cahill's coat holders at the Lottery.

By the way, here in the Merrimack Valley UMass Lowell is experiencing a sort of rebirth under the leadership of Marty Meehan. Now as a politician, Meehan is not my cup of tea but he is doing great work in Lowell, the school is growing, applications are way up, and there is a lot of pride there. With UMass President Jack Wilson retiring soon, I would not be surprised to see Meehan move to that job.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Picture perfect

Finally after some starts and stops, we made it to Halibut Point State Park in Rockport. We've been thinking of going there for a while...and it was worth the wait. This place is gorgeous. It is tucked away on Rt. 127, about 6 miles from 128. Whenever I go to these state parks, I always get the sense that I am going to be the only one there because there is never anyone else on the road. But, when I get there the place is packed. This was no exception. We had to wait about 10 minutes to get in and even then, the parking lot was jammed packed. Lynn actually got out as we were waiting in traffic so she could go ahead and feed Erin.

Once Kevin and I got there, we parked and walked into the park area. You actually park across the street from the entrance and you have to walk about 1/8 of a mile though a nice wooded trail to the park area. And once you get there, you get this stunning view of the ocean and of a quarry. Overlooking it all is an old World War II fire tower (which is now the Visitor's Center) with bathrooms, etc. The quarry went out of business in 1929 and is now filled in with water. There are trails all around the quarry and you can then walk up to an area overlooking the ocean and/or walk down to the ocean whose "beach" is all rock. After eating lunch overlooking the quarry, we walked around the quarry and then up to the overlook (where a wedding was taking place) and then walked down to the rocks. For some reason, the color and location reminded me of a place Lynn and I visited on our honeymoon in Maui. It was so unique seeing the ocean without sand, just rocks to climb on. People were just sitting there taking it all in, it was really neat.

We spent a good 2-3 hours here and after we decided to grab dinner at a place called La Rosa's in Gloucester. The restaurant is owned by a former co-worker of mine at Sun Life. We worked together for a number of years and were pretty friendly so it was nice to see him. Since I left Sun Life in 2006 I haven't seen much of him but before, we would hang out at work and on special occasions (he came to my wedding, I went to his daughter's baptism, etc). He is an amazing cook and everything at his place is homemade. We got some garlic bread for an appetizer (which came with delicious homemade pasta sauce) and a half cheese/half buffalo tender pizza for dinner. He actually adds bacon to his buffalo tender pizza which gave it a nice taste. The pizza came with homemade blue cheese dressing which Lynn kept on fawning over. Lynn is a good cook so she is very fussy about restaurant food and was blown away by Terry's cooking, that says a lot. His place is located literally at the end of Rt. 128 in Gloucester (at the intersection with Rt. 127). If you're up that way, be sure to check it out.

A picture perfect Sunday - weather and all.

Want to feel like a slob?

This just makes me feel like such a sloth. I get out of breath walking to the 3rd floor of my school but there is currently a man hiking the Appalachian Trail...and he is blind! Using a GPS, Mike Hanson is making his way through the 2,000 plus trail to demonstrate that blind people are capable and productive members of society.

Amazing. See more here.

Off to the woods

Earlier this summer, I took Kevin and Erin to Walden Pond to go swimming. Now, if you asked me then what Walden was all about, who Henry David Thoreau was, etc. I could have given you a basic, basic answer (I actually thought it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who lived at Walden). I knew very little so I am no expert on Walden and the Transcedentalists. In the past, when this chapter has come up in my US History class, I have either skipped over it and told the kids to just pay attention in their American Literature class or I have had the American Literature teacher come in and give a guest lecture.

But going there piqued my interest and while I still know just a little, I learned a ton yesterday when we went back. Every weekend or so, Walden has an hour long talk and tour on Thoreau. It starts at his replica cabin next to the parking lot and ends in the woods on the actual site of his cabin. Thoreau went to Walden in 1845 to write his first book which was a tribute to his brother who had just died. The book recounted their trip along the Merrimack and Concord Rivers (and around other parts of Massachusetts, including Mt. Greylock). He ended up staying at Walden for two years, two months, and two days observing the woods, the pond, and experiencing simplicity. While there he wrote the classic "Walden."

Thoreau lived in Concord most, if not all, of his life. Emerson once asked him to travel to Europe with him and Thoreau said, "Why travel when there is so much to see and learn here?"

Anyway, the tour was fascinating and the ranger was very, very informative. On our walk back, I stuck up a conversation with him about conservation, history, state and national parks and my travels this summer. He was a great guy who taught all of us a great deal- an example of how the state should spend its money, not on hacks and layabouts.

After the talk, I met up with Lynn and the kids and then took Erin for a walk around the pond and to the bookstore (I resisted the urge to buy something!). Today we're going to check out Halibut Point State Park in Rockport and then Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield (they have a wading pool for kids). Tomorrow we're going to the beach as a renter is leaving and another one is coming in so Lynn has to get the place ready.

The DCR, which runs the state parks, puts out a ton of maps of the parks including one for the Passport program and another more traditional map which shows the location of the parks on a map of the state. I got the Passport map a few weeks ago and hung it up in Kevin's room and yesterday I decided to hang the other one up in the hallway for him to look at. He knows it's a map of places we've been and it's fun to go over it with him. I told him that next summer, I'll spin him around and then have him point to a place on the map with his eyes closed and that's where we'll go that day.

Anyway, I posted a ton of pictures on Facebook from our travels the past few weeks, including Walden. Enjoy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hello again

Sorry for the blackout this week folks. School started up last week and this week was the first full week of classes (well, kind of full, we had today off). Unlike last year, I have an extra class this year so I only have one free period a day (and a study hall) and I have to use it to get work done. Last year I was spoiled - I was off from 11am-1pm every day during the first semester.

So with the day off today I decided to take the kids to, well, where else? Some state parks. The Gardner Heritage State Park is having an art show devoted to the state parks so I figured we'd check that out. Lynn had no interest whatsoever in going this weekend so I knew if I wanted to see it, today was the day. We started the morning off actually at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton. At 2,006 feet, I believe that Wachusett is the largest mountain in the state east of the Connecticut River. The auto road to the summit is being repaired and won't open until next year so if you want to go to the top you have to hike (they're improving the auto road like they did with Greylock. If Greylock's new road is any indication of how this is going to look, it's going to be amazing. See the plans here).

I just planned on checking out the Visitor's Center and looking around, no way was I hiking 2,000 feet with two kids! What I didn't know was that the Visitor's Center is already 1,300 feet up so all that is left to hike is about 700 feet or so. If I knew that I may have taken the hike. Kevin was begging me to take him on a hike there and I would have but he had his fireman boots on and I had on sandals. Plus, I didn't pack any water or food so there was just no way we could do it.

After the mountain we went to Gardner to check out the art exhibit and the park itself. The state has these heritage museums across the state to highlight the history of certain areas - North Adams, Fall River, Lawrence, and Lowell also have them. Gardner was known as the furniture capital of the world and they had exhibits highlighting their history in that field. It was OK, it didn't really hold my attention. The art show was just about 15 paintings or so and again, it was OK. They were mostly of ponds and lakes I didn't know. I am really glad I didn't take Lynn, she would have killed me! There was this enormous chair in the lobby that the kids could climb up and sit on so that was fun, perhaps the best part of the park!

That was all I had planned and I wasn't wholly satisfied. I noticed that Dunn State Park was right down the street from the heritage museum so we took a ride down there. Now this was fun. This park has a pond, trails around the pond, a playground, and another play thing Kevin could climb up and then slide down. We spent a good amount of time here walking a trail (Kevin got his hike in) and playing on the kid's things. From here I saw that Leominster State Forest was close by and within it was Redemption Rock (the site where in 1676 Mary Rowlandson was returned to her husband after being held captive by Indians during King Philip's War. I had read about this this summer in Nathanial Philbrick's "Mayflower" so since I was so close I thought I'd check it out).

You actually have to pay $5 to go into Leominster State Forest and I didn't want to do that so we just turned around. But, the guy let Kevin get his Passport stamped and a fire ranger gave him a sticker and a yellow "Live Strong" type bracelet but this one said "Smokey's Friend" or something like that.

Luckily Redemption Rock was not within the paid part and actually, is not part of the state park system (it's owned by the Trustees of Reservations). The rock was a few minutes away from the forest entrance and was right on Rt. 140. You just pull in and there it is - I was in awe. Here I was standing in the same spot as King Philip (Metacom) and other folks from one of the most earliest wars in American history. I am covering King Philip's War next week in AP US History so I will show the kids the pictures I took.

I figured that would be that but I had one more sight in mind - Wachusett Reservoir in West Bolyston. There wasn't much to see here but Kevin got his stamp and I learned a little. That was our last stop and we got home around 5:30 or so. It was a nice day, I know where some things are now, Kevin had fun and got some stamps for his Passport book, and I got some material for class next week.

I really, really, really want to go to Walden Pond tomorrow for a talk on Henry David Thoreau. The only problem is that it's at 2:30 which is right in the middle of the day. We shall see. I also really wanted to check out Halibut Point State Park in Rockport and Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield. I actually wanted to see Halibut today but it was closed because of Earl. Plus, I think Lynn wants to see this place too so I will save it for when she's around. Maybe on Sunday? On Monday, Lawrence is having their annual Bread and Roses Festival so maybe I'll hit that too.

Fun, fun, fun (fun for me, not sure Lynn thinks so).