Thursday, April 28, 2011

State parks galore

Yes, I am obsessed but it's what I (and the kids) like to do. So we headed back to Central Massachusetts today to check out two more parks (but ended up seeing three). We first stopped at Moore State Park in Paxton. Oh man, you have to check this place out. It's an old estate that also once housed a saw mill (dating back to the 1740's). The grounds are beautiful and the centerpiece is a pond that feeds into a waterfall, down a stone mill foundation which makes three waterfalls. It is a beautiful site. You can do down a trail and onto the edge of the land to get a picture perfect view of the falls. The view is so nice they call it the Artist Overlook.

Above the pond is a big covered bridge with some chairs off to the side to sit and admire the tranquility. There are a number of walking trails but we stayed on the main road for the whole time. We took Kevin's tricycle and he had a blast riding around the park on it. Erin, of course, got filthy (but I had a chance of clothes this time). This has quickly become one of my favorite parks - I read that the flowers in bloom (rhododendrons and azaleas especially) are quite a site. I will be back.

From here we stopped by Rutland State Park in nearby Rutland which wasn't much - really just a big pond for people to fish and swim. We only stayed here for about 10 minutes. From here we went to Quinsigamond State Park in Worcester which is only the waterfront of Lake Quinsigamond where they have a lot of regatta races. It is right in downtown Worcester acorss from UMass Medical Center. Again, we just stayed here for a bit.

Not sure what tomorrow and Saturday holds but I will let you know!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hiking and meltdown

So I decided to take the kids to Douglas State Forest in Douglas today. I wanted to go here because within the forest, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island meet and there is a marker there. That sounded cool enough to check out.

We got there around 10:30ish. I put Erin in my new carrier and Kevin led the way "reading the map." We had to follow the Midstate Trail which is marked by a yellow triangle. Kevin was good at finding the trail markers but we eventually got off the trail. In looking more closely at the map, I realized that it would be much too far to hike this way and decided to abandon it. The kids played for a while near the lake and swamp where Erin got filthy dirty...and I didn't have a change of clothes. After a snack we headed out.

I decided to stop at the headquarters to see if there was another way to get to the Tri-state marker and the guy gave me a better way to hike. We went there and hiked...and hiked...and hiked. I could not find the darn thing and we just kept walking and walking. We did come to the border of Massachusetts and Connecticut and saw that marker which was pretty cool. We walked deeper and deeper into Connecticut and Kevin was losing it. I gave up and we turned around after about an hour and headed back to the car. Kevin had an epic meltdown and I carried him every now and then. I just let him plop down on the ground and I would keep on walking knowing he'd catch up. If I kept on stopping, we'd never finish.

After about an hour, we made it back to the car where I had to change Erin's mega poopy diaper and get poor Kevin a drink - he was so hot and red.

I checked out where the marker was when I got home and it looks like we were pretty close but I just misread the map. Oh well, I will check it out again sometime again, it's not too far away. But even though we didn't see the marker, we did see a deer along the path so there was some reward.

One small step...

Look, I have no problems with unions. My father belonged to the Carpenters Union for decades and my mother always said that my sister and I would never have been able to go to the schools we did were it not for the union. But public employee unions have become so intransigent and refuse to make any sort of compromise, even in these tough fiscal times that even their closest allies (i.e. Democrats) are making changes, AFL-CIO be damned.

Last night the Massachusetts House voted 111-42 to strip public unions from their right to bargain on health care. As a compromise, the bill does allow the unions to discuss changes within 30 days of a proposed change.

Robert Haynes, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO warned Democrats:

“It’s pretty stunning,’’ said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.’’

Translation? We own you and you will pay.

Another reason to vote Republican in 2012.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

History day

I never watch Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" but I heard he recently did an episode on Boston so I watched it late last night on On Demand...what a great show, I will be watching it more now. My man Howie Carr was in it and most of the show focused on Southie. One place outside of Southie that he visited was a seafood place called Belle Isle Seafood which is in East Boston right on the Winthrop line. The highlight of this place is its lobster roll where you get 1/2 pound of lobster! I've been wanting to visit Belle Isle Marsh Reservation and this lobster roll looked too darn good so I decided to take a ride down to visit both places.

The restaurant is very small, there is a "bar" that seats less than 10 people. The lobster roll was $18.99 which included fries. Yikes, don't tell my wife. With tax it came to $20.32 so I didn't even have enough money to get a drink. The food came in less than 10 minutes and it was a heaping of lobster, so much that much of it fell out of the small hot dog roll. But man was it good - tons and tons of lobster that was so fresh and succulent. I took my time eating it and savored it. There was a couple there who must have also seen the show as I heard them mention Boudain's name. This place must be making a killing off the show.

Belle Isle Marsh is literally across the street from the restaurant but I didn't see any parking and it didn't look like much at all (I should have looked more closely at the website and the map before I left). So I decided to skip that and head to Lynn/Nahant Beach to get a stamp Kevin missed when we were last there. But at the last minute I decided to head over to the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. I have my own stamp book of all the National Parks in New England and I figured since I was so close, I may as well stop in.

I grew up 10 minutes away from this park but I never once went there. It is located right off the downtown in Saugus and is a full recreation of a iron works site that was constructed by the Puritans in the 1600's. The only original piece is a small house where they believe the supervisor lived. I don't think they get many visitors as the lady working in the visitors center was talking my ear off! She was pleasant to talk to though. The grounds are beautiful and I was more impressed with the recreation than the actual history of the place. The angle is that this was the place were the Puritans became self-sufficient as they perfected making iron. The site itself was only in existence for 30 years or so and it was excavated and recreated in the 1950's. I watched an interesting 12 minute video and then walked around the grounds. It was nothing too exciting but the care and detail into which they did the recreations was amazing, especially the giant (and I mean giant) bellows.

From there I decided to take a ride over to Minuteman National Park in Lexington. I've been there a number of times but figured I'd go get the stamp. I watched their 25 minute movie/presentation and then took a ride over to the North Bridge area, about 10 minutes down the road in Concord.

I think tomorrow I will take the kids to Douglas State Forest which is located on the border of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. How cool does that sound?

Monday, April 25, 2011

History of state parks

Speaking of state parks, the DCR will begin a series of monthly events to highlight the history and beauty of the parks. It begins in May with a lecture in Hull on the history and evolution of the state parks in Massachusetts. Then there will be a walk/talk at the Middlesex Fells in June; at Castle Island in July, and Stony Brook in August.

See more here.

State Parks in danger

On April 16 I volunteered at Wachusett Mountain State Reservation as part of the state's Park Serve Day. It was an opportunity for folks to volunteer at a state park for a few hours and help get them ready for summer. I choose Wachusett as it's pretty close (less than an hour) and even though I've never hiked it, I am attracted to the mountain (whatever that means). Plus, Thoreau wrote about it!

I got there around 10am and the parking lot was packed! I was excited that there would be so many people helping out. The Revere High School softball team was there too and I thought they were there to help as well. Turns out that I was the only volunteer - all the cars were hikers! I spent the morning with two of the guys who work at the park (I forget their names unfortunately) helping them plant a garden next to the visitor's center. My first task was to nail in the spikes for the edging which didn't take too long. After that we dug holes for one tree, three bushes, and about 12 flowers. We then planted them and cleaned up - it only took us about 2 hours, if that, as I was back on the road by noon.

In talking with the guys, it seems that the only full-time workers there are them, another guy, and the supervisor. They said that there are a lot of budget cuts and that the revenue the parks get go back to the state's general fund, not to the parks directly. I said that it was too bad that all the money goes to the hacks and people in Boston and not to what the people enjoy (they didn't respond of course but they seemed to agree).

The state parks are exactly what the state should be spending their money on, in addition to things like education, social services, etc. Instead, the DCR budget may be slashed by $10m despite the fact that attendance at state parks is up 30%! If the cuts stay in place, parks will have to be closed and those that remain open will have staff reduced.

Kudos to the Massachusetts Stewardship Council which has come up with two ideas to help the DCR maintain some funding:

1. Allow DCR to keep 80 percent of any money it takes in, returning 20 percent to the treasury — a move that would give it an additional $2.7 million annually. Currently, it keeps just over 60 percent.

2. Fully fund the cost of the State House rangers. Lee said the DCR “continues to be asked to take on responsibilities for which budgeted funds are insufficient.’’ Staffing levels for State House rangers are determined by the Legislature, but the dollar amount designated for it falls short by $700,000.

Please contact your legislator and ask them to fund things we care about, not hack jobs.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New Hampshire State of Mind

I spent a good chunk of my weekend in the Granite State. On Saturday, we had our annual Youth and Government at the State House in Concord. I am the advisor for our school's group and this year we had 12 kids take part. It's a 3-day program with one day in March and two back to back days in April. Unfortunately day two, which was Friday, was cancelled due to the snow so we just met this Saturday. It's a great program - the kids get total control of the State House, Supreme Court, and Legislative Office Building and participate in a mock government. They elect leaders and they write bills beforehand, debate them in committee, in the chambers of the House and Senate, they go to to the governor, etc. It's a blast.

Today, after Mass, Lynn and I took the kids to Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, NH. Within the state park is the Seacoast Science Center which had a big tank where the kids could touch and pick up starfish and other sea creatures. There were other hands on stuff like a boat they could climb in, a ship's control panel where you could "drive" a ship, and an aquarium of fish and crustaceans, including a blue lobster! We spent a good hour or so here and I had to literally drag Kevin out, he enjoyed it so much. We went to the playground for a bit and then took a ride down to Lynn's parent's cottage at Hampton Beach and a walk on the beach.

The state park itself is beautiful but we didn't check much of it out. It will be worth another ride soon.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Off to school

Today I registered Kevin for Pre-K at Saint Louis School in Lowell. Yikes, how did that happen so fast? He's pretty smart if I say so myself so Lynn and I felt he needed a full-time program next year. Currently he goes to day care two days a week and his grandparents the other three days. The principal was very impressed with him, saying he had amazing social skills and was very smart.

Being a Catholic school teacher and a product of Catholic schools, it was important to me that he go to a Catholic school. Lynn is less concerned about Catholic vs. public for elementary school. Obviously cost is an issue but I believe in Catholic schools. It will be a sacrifice and I may need to cut out some things but it will be worth it. Going forward, we shall see. We own a condo now and buying a house is very high on our priority list too. I suppose I could compromise and have the kids go public K-8 and then to Catholic high school. Dracut is starting full-time kindergarten next year at no extra cost which is nice. I have no intention of teaching in a public school so they will obviously go to the same high school at which I teach since it will be free for them.

Either way, let the fun begin.

School Daze

So sorry I have been off the grid this past month. To say it's been busy is an understatement. Just last week, I went to Quebec City for the installation Mass of Archbishop Gerald Lacroix, the new archbishop of Quebec and a graduate of my school. I went up with the principal and our communications director. We drove up last Thursday and after about a 6 hour drive, got there around 4pm. We stayed at the famous Chateau Frontenac! We rested up and cleaned up and then headed out to dinner at a place called Panache. It was AMAZING. They served the same thing to everyone - some nice meats, cheeses, pork with scallops, chicken and potatoes, and assorted desserts. They served each thing in different servings. Damn it was good. The next day we headed out to walk around Quebec City and to see the sights. I was in Quebec once, back in 1991 but I don't really remember it. We stayed at the same hotel actually but that's all I remember. The city is so beautiful, even in the winter. I've never been to Paris but I imagine that this is what it looks like. The Mass was at 7:30pm but we were invited to a special dinner at 4:30pm with the archbishop and other guests. The dinner was buffet style, very simple yet delicious. The Mass itself was almost all in French with some English and Spanish. I studied French in high school and college but it's been a while so I was only able to pick up on some words here and there. Either way, it was a beautiful Mass and it was evident that the people of Quebec love Archbishop Lacroix. We headed out around 9am the next day as our 10-year accreditation process began on Sunday and we had to get back to school to finish up some things. Thankfully some students came by to help with the cleaning as we finished up setting up rooms, bringing things to the hotel, etc. I finally made it home around 8:30pm where I was so excited to see Lynn and the kids. I missed them so much even though I was only gone for 2 days. Our accreditation visit went very well and we should hear the results in a few weeks. Now I have to finish grading papers as grades for third quarter close on Monday. Ahhhhhhh.