Massachusetts 351


I’ve lived in Massachusetts for nearly 19 years (and in a bordering state for 15 years when I was younger), but despite it being a small state I feel that I have not seen much of Massachusetts.  I am the stereotype of the Boston urbanite who rarely ventures outside the confines of the Rt. 128 beltway and certainly never go Westa Wistah.

There are 351 cities and towns in the Bay State and with a handy list on Wikipedia, I was able to determine how many of them I’ve visited.  I left out any place I merely passed through – whether in a car, bus, train, or bike – and focus on the places I have a concrete memory of visiting.

In alphabetical order, here’s the list:

Amherst
Aquinnah
Arlington
Belchertown
Belmont
Beverly
Boston
Braintree
Brookline
Cambridge
Canton
Carver
Chelsea
Chilmark
Concord
Danvers
Dedham
Eastham
Edgartown
Essex
Everett
Falmouth
Foxborough
Framingham
Gloucester
Haverhill
Hingham
Holyoke
Hull
Ipswich
Kingston
Lexington
Lincoln
Littleton
Lowell
Malden
Manchester-by-the-Sea
Marblehead
Marlborough
Maynard
Medford
Melrose
Nantucket
Natick
Needham
New Bedford
Newburyport
Newton
North Andover
North Reading
Northampton
Norwood
Oak Bluffs
Peabody
Plymouth
Provincetown
Quincy
Reading
Revere
Rockport
Salem
Sharon
Shelburne
Somerville
Southborough
Stockbridge
Stoneham
Stoughton
Sturbridge
Tisbury
Topsfield
Wakefield
Waltham
Watertown
Wayland
Wellesley
West Tisbury
Westford
Weston
Westwood
Wilmington
Winchester
Woburn
Worcester

So there we go, 84 Massachusetts’ cities and towns, about a quarter of the total of 351.  What I’m going to do is try to make an effort to visit all 351 municipalities, take a picture of myself by a local landmark, and post it here.  I don’t know how long this will take (and I’m not even sure how one gets to Gosnold, the smallest community in Massachusetts), but I’ll do my best.

Edit on 1/11/2016: Thinking of some places I’ve been on outdoor adventures in western Massachusetts and realizing I can add a few more municipalities to the list.

Charlemont (Mohawk Trail State Forest)
Lenox (Tanglewood Music Center)
Mt. Washington (Bash Bish Falls)

There are probably others that I will add if I remember them, but this brings the list to 87!

Do you live in Massachusetts?  Tell me about your city or town? What local place should I not miss when I come to visit?

Playlist of Modern Christmas Music


Since Thanksgiving my children have enjoyed listening to an endless stream of Christmas music on the Boston radio station Magic 106.7.  I’ve been surprised that despite a 24/7 Christmas music format that the playlist of Magic 106.7 seems extremely limited.  They do not play any overtly religious songs which is not surprising as they would want to appeal to the largest audience possible.  And as Magic 106.7 has a pop “adult contemporary” radio format, I would not expect them to play any folk, traditional, or foreign language tracks either.

Nevertheless, there is a still a large body of popular Christmas music that they seem to ignore.  Tune in for an hour, or even half-an-hour and you are certain to hear some rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as well as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

I decided I would use Rdio to make a playlist of Christmas songs to see how many I could get without repeating.  I decided to set the following guidelines. I would only select “modern” Christmas and winter-themed songs, that is ones that were written to be recorded and sold to the public (roughly the 1930s to the present).  I also chose the earliest recording of the song I could find as many have obviously been recorded numerous times by multiple artists.  So far I have 105 songs, more than 5 1/2 hours of Christmas music without repeating a song, and this doesn’t even include modern interpretations of traditional Christmas carols from the 19th-century and earlier.

Check out the playlist on Rdio.  If you use Rdio, feel free to add additional tracks, and if not please feel free to make suggestions in the comments on this post.

http://rd.io/x/Rl5fvL0v6y1i/

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but are not available through Rdio:

  • “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl
  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid
  • “Three Kings” by Robbie O’Connell
  • “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade
  • “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but I cannot bear to listen to:

  • “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney
  • “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy

The complete playlist:

Name Artist
‘Zat You, Santa Claus? Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays (1954 Version) Perry Como
2000 Miles Pretenders
A Child Is Born Oscar Peterson
A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) Spike Jones
Anderson: Sleigh Ride The Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler *
Another Lonely Christmas Prince
Auld Lang Syne Guy Lombardo
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (78rpm Version) Dinah Shore
Back Door Santa Clarence Carter
Blue Christmas Ernest Tubb
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott
Carol of the Drum Trapp Family Singers
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Darlene Love
Christmas Canon Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas In Heaven (Monty Python Sings) Monty Python
Christmas in Hollis RUN-DMC
Christmas in Killarney Dennis Day
Christmas In New Orleans Louis Armstrong
Christmas In The Trenches John McCutcheon
Christmas Is Run-D.M.C.
Christmas Island The Andrews Sisters
Christmas Medley The Swingle Singers
Christmas Rappin’ Kurtis Blow
Christmas Song Dave Matthews Band
Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal – Album Version) Vince Guaraldi Trio
Christmas Will Soon Be Here John Gaudet & The Laurels
Christmas Wrapping The Waitresses
Do You Hear What I Hear? The Harry Simeone Chorale
Dominick the Donkey Lou Monte
Donde Esta Santa Claus? Augie Rios
Father Christmas The Kinks
Feliz Navidad José Feliciano
Frosty the Snowman (78rpm Version) Gene Autry
Gee Whiz, Its Christmas Carla Thomas
Give Love On Christmas Day (Group A Cappella Version) The Jackson 5
Happy Holiday Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (2010 Digital Remaster) John Lennon
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland
Here Comes Santa Claus (Right down Santa Claus Lane) Gene Autry
I Believe In Father Christmas (Album Version) Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You The Garlands
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day Fred Waring And His Pennsylvanians
I Just Can’t Wait Till Christmas Teresa Brewer
I Pray On Christmas (Album Version) Harry Connick, Jr.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Jimmy Boyd
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas Gayla Peevey
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday Wizzard
I’ll Be Home For Christmas Bing Crosby
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Dick Powell
If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas Day (Album Version) Gene Autry
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Perry Como
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
Jingle Bell Rock Bobby Helms
Just Like Christmas Low
Last Christmas (Single Version) Wham!
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Vaughn Monroe
Little Saint Nick The Beach Boys
Lord Of The Dance The Christmas Revels
Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past Sufjan Stevens
Marshmallow World Dean Martin **
Mary’s Boy Child (Remastered) Harry Belafonte
Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) Bing Crosby
Merry Christmas Baby Charles Brown, Johnny Moore, Eddie Williams
Merry Christmas Everyone (Remastered) Shakin’ Stevens
Merry Christmas from the Family Robert Earl Keen
No More Christmas Blues The Vacant Lots
Nuttin’ for Christmas Art Mooney Orchestra
Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Medley) (2006 Digital Remaster) Bing Crosby
Percy, The Puny Poinsettia (Album Version) Elmo & Patsy
Please Come Home for Christmas Charles Brown
River Joni Mitchell
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Gene Autry
Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
Santa Baby Eartha Kitt
Santa Claus The Fuzztones
Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto James Brown
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Harry Reser & His Orchestra
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town The Smothers Brothers
Silver Bells Bob Hope
Sleigh Ride Andrews Sisters *
Snoopy’s Christmas The Royal Guardsmen
Someday At Christmas Stevie Wonder
Step Into Christmas Elton John
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Swiss Christmas The Smothers Brothers
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) (1999 – Remaster) Alvin and The Chipmunks
The Christians and The Pagans Dar Williams
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) Nat King Cole Trio
The Closest I Can Get Sunturns
The Secret Of Christmas Ella Fitzgerald **
The Shepherd’s Carol (vocal by Kip Ledger) Charlene Lockwood
This Christmas Donny Hathaway
Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights) JD McPherson
We Need A Little Christmas Angela Lansbury (And Cast)
What Christmas Means To Me Stevie Wonder
White Christmas Bing Crosby
Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas The Staple Singers
Winter Song Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson
Winter Wonderland (feat. Joey Nash) Richard Himber and his Orchestra
Yes, There Is a Santa Claus Betty Madigan
You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch Thurl Ravenscroft

Footnotes:

* The only song repeated in this playlist is “Sleigh Ride.”  First there is the iconic orchestral rendition by The Boston Pops.  The Andrews Sisters provided one of the early vocal recordings with the song’s lyrics.

** Bing Crosby is credited as the first person to record “Marshmallow World” and “The Secret of Christmas,” but as this playlist was already heavy with Crosby’s crooning, I chose the Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald versions of these songs respectively.

Something Cool: Visited States Map Generator


The Visited States Maps Generator at the Defocus Blog allows you to create a map of US states (and Canadian provinces if you chose) that you’ve visited, color-coded by the amount of time and commitment you’ve given to each place.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

Here’s my map:

vsm-5dbdf88bbe40d5edf09237c8f10aedcb

I made the decision not to include states where I only changed planes at the airport (for me that would be Minnesota and Texas).  I also think that there should be a distinctive color for  states one has lived in compared to states that one has just visited a lot.  The states I’ve resided in are New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts.  I’ve also included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in the green category because I’ve traveled to those states frequently (the first two primarily due to family living there).

What does your map look like?  Go to http://www.defocus.net/visitedstates/ and find out.

Photopost: Wake Up The Earth 2013


Spring descended on Jamaica Plain this past weekend with the annual Wake Up the Earth Festival presented by Spontaneous Celebrations. This was the 35th annual festival, an event that grew out of the “highway revolt” of the 1960s & 70s when local activists opposed the construction of highway infrastructure in Jamaica Plain & Roxbury, leading to the creation of the Southwest Corridor as a system of train lines, bike paths, and parks that we enjoy today. Ironically, some people who want to create new prioritized highway infrastructure for cars marched in this year’s parade which I guess shows that this festival takes all kinds.  The festival itself was home to many tents of activists of many causes, food, games, and musical performances.  My family and I sang a few songs with the intergenerational chorus SingPositive, JP in preparation for our concert on May 19th.  We also danced to Maaak Pelletier’s jam band the Mystical Misfits as they played Grateful Dead classics.  Finally, the potato sack slide down the hillside was great fun for everyone.

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A peace sign and yin yang grow out of the hillside at Jamaica Pond’s Sugar Bowl.
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Peace and flowers!
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The Brendan Behan quote seems appropriate to the occassion.
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Spanish banner for the festival.
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Here comes the parade.
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The stilt walkers always impress.
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I’m pretty sure this woman participates every year.
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The theme of the year is snakes and these folks won the Best Family Costume award.
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Hula hooping is another big highlight of the festival.
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Mobile percussion unit.
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The wolf and the lamb dance in the street.
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A rocking marching band and dancing stilt walker.

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Scholars from my son’s school march.
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Getting brassy.
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The Mystical Misfits lead the dance.

More photos from the parade and festival on Universal Hub and JP Patch.

Previously:

Photopost: Wake Up the Earth 2012


Some photos from back on May 5th when Spontaneous Celebrations presented its annual Wake Up the Earth Festival in Jamaica Plain. This year we not only watched the parade but my son and I also participated in the festival, performing with Sing Positive JP.

Here’s a sample of our chorus’ singing:

Related Posts:

Wake Up the Earth


Today, Jamaica Plain woke up the earth at the annual festival sponsored by Spontaneous Celebrations.  I took my son to soccer practice this morning and afterward we biked to Centre St to watch the parade.  Stilt-walkers, bicyclists, drummers, dancers and lots of bunnies starred in the procession. After the  parade passed, my son wanted to follow on our bike.  I got a bit frustrated with the stop & go and having to put my foot down all the time so I took a shortcut to Stony Brook.  There we were able to watch the parade arrive at the festival where all the participants formed a circle with much rhythmic drumming and swaying.  The stilt-walkers and puppets were a little scary for Peter but it was cool to feel the drumbeats reverberating in the soil.  With a storm and naptime approaching we pedaled home but enjoyed a fun morning.

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Related Posts:

Retropost: Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


In honor of this special day let’s revisit one of my favorite posts.

While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Ital … Read More

Related Posts:

Wake Up The Earth Parade


This morning we attended the parade for Jamaica Plain’s annual Wake Up The Earth Festival.   The fun started at Ferris Wheels bike shop where I brought my bike for a tune-up and while there a woman dressed as a chicken came in to get air for her bike tires.  Only in JP.

The parade was great fun.  We saw puppets, stilt-walkers, cute kids in strollers, dancers, marching bands, political activists, cute kids in costumes, and yes, chickens on bicycles.  Peter picked up some good loot: a water bottle from the Mosaic School and a handmade magic wand (made from a pipette).

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One can’t get the true sense of the Wake Up The Earth Festival without sounds and action, so here are a few short videos too.

Dancing Kids:

Dancing Man on Stilts:

Marching band:

It was fun Waking Up The Earth, and we didn’t even have to give her a Box of Joe from Dunkin’ Donuts.  Now it’s time for a good nap.

PreviouslyWake Up The Earth 2009

Scary Frosty Wants You!


In Central Square,  Cambridge an angry snowman demands that you keep your sidewalks clear of snow.

I’ve actually noticed that the sidewalks in Central Square & Cambridgeport tend to be better maintained than other places in and around Boston. So this vindictive anthropomorphic mass of crystallized precipitation is doing his job. Respect his authority!

Two More Bits of Video Awesomeness


1. Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden

via No Mas.

2. The Cast of Spongebob Squarepants Dubs Classic Films

via Steve.
Previously: Two Bits of Video Awesomeness

Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden

Cities with Mountains


I’m a man of extremes.  I love urban living, but when I want to get out of the city I want to get way out of the city, skipping over all those suburbs.  Ideally my best vacation spot is on a remote trail hiking up a mountain.  Too bad that the best of both worlds is hard to find – cities with mountains.  Most cities are built on a plain by a river, not mountainsides.  Boston has some nice steep hills – and once had a three-peak hill the English called Trimountain (which was later torn down) – but nothing really mountainous.  So on this hot summer day in the city I’m going to write a tribute to four cities I’ve visited that have mountains within their environs.

First up is Eugene, which technically doesn’t have a mountain but a butte, but a butte is close enough.  I hiked up the trails of Spencer Butte on a visit in 1997 and it was a lovely escape from the city with a lot of typical public park ammenities with some added elevation.  Spencer Butte tops out at 2055 feet (626 m) although oddly it felt the least “mountainous” of the four urban mountains I’ve climbed.

Here’s a view in all its black & white beauty:

To be honest I'm not sure if this photo is of Spencer Butte or from Spencer Butte, but you get the gist
To be honest I'm not sure if this photo is of Spencer Butte or from Spencer Butte, but you get the gist

The following year I visited Edinburgh, Scotland which I wrote about on the tenth anniversary of the visit.  I was awed by Arthur’s Seat which may be the most urban of mountains with the city streets and buildings going right up to its foothills.  Arthur’s Seat is only  823.5 ft (251 m) but I’m certain its elevation rises most dramatically around the surrounding territory of any of the mountains in cities I’ve seen.

Im almost fell to my death trying to make this self-portrait.
I'm almost fell to my death trying to make this self-portrait.

Montreal, Quebec is actually named for its mountain Mont Royal.  I climbed the mountain with Susan & Camille in May 1999 and a few days later rode my bike to the summit.  Mont Royal gets bonus points for being in a park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and a spiff cross near the summit. Mont Royal stands at 764 ft (233 m) and is the lowest of the four “mountains.”

Taking in the view of Montreal in my bright yellow bicycling jacket.
Taking in the view of Montreal in my bright yellow bicycling jacket.

Finally there is the city of Salzburg, Austria which Susan & I visited in 2003.  Located in the Alps, Salzburg is surrounded by mountains but the closest to center city is Mönchsberg.  This mountain is fortified with the ancient Hohensalzburg Fortress looming over the city but also felt the most wild, as if we may wander off into some primeval forest of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Mönchsberg may also be the steepest of the urban mountains I’ve visited including one section of sheer rockface with monk’s cells carved in the side.   Mönchsberg is 1,771 feet (540 meters) high.

The monks' cells carved in the side of Mönchsberg.
The monks' cells carved in the side of Mönchsberg.

So have you been to a good urban mountain? Does your city have a mountain of it’s very own? Share your stories below, I need some cool thoughts for these hot days!

Old MacDonald’s Farm


I often find myself idly surfing the net and making discoveries of something from my past. Recently, I became reacquainted with Old Macdonald’s Farm, a place in Norwalk, CT that I loved to visit when I was very young.  Before being closed and replaced by a corporate office park, Old Macdonald’s Farm had:

  • an old-fashioned country-style restaurant that looked like it was in a barn with the booths decorated as stables (complete with the names of horses on plaques over the booths)
  • a candy store with lots of different types of penny-candy including every imaginable flavor of candy sticks.
  • a petting zoo with goats, sheep, cows and other farm animals.
  • a small amusement park with a train ride and other rides that appealed to small children

When it closed, I was heart-broken, especially since a covered wooden bridge was preserved to connect the very modern office park to its parking lot.  My younger self cursed the corporate suits who destroyed this little bit of Americana every time I passed and saw that bridge.  Okay, maybe not, but it was some similar emotion.

There’s not about Old Macdonald’s Farm on the web, but I found a couple of photos.  I was awestruck by how the photos look just as I remember.  The first picture is of the restaurant from a website called Cardcow which collects old postcards.

Vintage Postcards from Cardcow.com
Wow! The pot-belly stove, the rafters, the farm implements, the barrels, the checkered table cloths -- all just as I remember!


Cardcow.com

The next picture is from a photo blog called Serendipitous by a woman named Kathy Chiapetta.  The photos appear to be scanned from a 2005 Darien Times article which is not available online.  The one thing I don’t see in any of the photos is a big waterwheel that impressed me as a child.

This picture looks like it was taken well before I was born, but otherwise it's pretty much how I remembered it. I was convinced that these stalls were actually once used by horses.

Thanks for indulging me. If you have memories and pictures of Old Macdonald’s Farm please let me know.
Previous Trips Down Memory Lane:

Meme: iTunes/mp3 library


Via Wordishness

Number of Songs: 12,267
Number of Albums: 1223
Most Recently Played Song: “Run Run Away” – Slade
Most Played Song: “Wind and Rain” – Crooked Still
Most Recently Added Album: Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music – Ray Charles

First Song Alphabetically: “A-Punk” – Vampire Weekend
Last Song Alphabetically: “Zooropa” – U2
Smallest Song Numerically: “1-2-3”- Len Barry
Biggest Song Numerically: “1999″ – Prince & The Revolution

Shortest Song: “Kangaroo-SFX”- Carl Stalling (0:03)
Longest Song: “Comes A Time”- Grateful Dead (36:29)

First Album Alphabetically: Abbey Road, The Beatles
Last Album Alphabetically: Zooropa, U2
First Album Numerically: 1-2-3-4 Die, The Ramones
Last Album Numerically: 1964 Rock ‘n’ Roll Era

First Five Songs That Pop Up On Shuffle:

  1. “Low Down Man” – Squirrel Nut Zippers
  2. “You Don’t Know” – Erin McKeown
  3. “Achin’ To Be” – The Replacements
  4. “Bought For A Song” – Fountains of Wayne
  5. “When Your Heart Is Weak”– Cock Robin

Walk for Hunger 2009


It’s time again for one of my favorite events of the year, Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger. I’ll be walking with my wife Susan and son Peter.  At least one of us has participated every year since 2004.  This year will be the first time all three of us will walk together as family.  It is important to us to remember the many people who are suffering from the lack of food including families like our own with young children.

Having a child makes us realize how
important good nutrition is for the development of children like Peter. With the cost of food rising, it is getting harder and harder for low-income parents to buy good food for the kids.  Hunger affects children’s physical and mental development and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.  We believe that no child or adult deserves to go hungry.

As a result of the global economic crisis more and more people are unable to make ends meet. They are forced to go without food in order to pay their rent, utility, and medical bills. The demand for emergency food has never been greater with pantries and meal programs supported by Project Bread serving 43.4 million meals last year alone.

Here are the ways you can help:

  • Go to the Project Bread Walk for Hunger website and sponsor us for the Walk.  Donations in any amount small or large are welcome.  Together we can make a difference.
  • If you live in the Boston area, register to walk or volunteer.  If you’re already signed up, let us know as we’d love to see you on May 3rd.
  • We always welcome good thoughts, prayers, and moral support in addition to or in lieu of donations.

Project Bread helps by using the funds raised in the Walk for Hunger to support 400 emergency food programs across the state.  These include some of favorite places to volunteer like:

  • Haley House which provides meals daily to homeless men and the elderly as well as a bakery training program to promote self-sufficiency for underemployed people with barriers to employment.
  • Wednesday Night Supper Club where a hot and nutritious meal is served once a week to guests with respect anddignity.
  • Greater Boston Food Bank where food discarded by supermarkets is salvaged for stocking food pantries.

We hope you can support our fund raising and walking efforts in any way you can.
Previously:

Old South Meeting House: Behind the Scenes


This week Old South Meeting House opened it’s doors for an open house for people who work in the tourism industry to see behind the scenes in the historic church.  As a Boston By Foot guide, the offer was extended to me and a I jumped at the chance especially since it meant I’d be able to stand on the pulpit, walk around the balconies, and climb up the steeple – all off-limits to regular visitors.  That’s nirvana for the history geek.  I should note too that I’ve long found Old South to be one of Boston’s best history museums.

Behind the Scenes at Old South Meeting House photo album

The eagle atop the Simon Willard Gallery Clock has a great view of the pulpit.
The eagle atop the Simon Willard Gallery Clock has a great view of the pulpit.

Old South dates back to 1729 built on the site of a previous meetinghouse building and the congregation worshiped there until moving to Copley Square in 1872.  In addition to religious services it served as a space for large public meetings, most famously the meeting that launched the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  Old South survived abuse by British soldiers who stabled their horses inside during the Revolution and a close shave with the flames of the Great Fire of 1872.  In 1876 it become the first building in New England (and fourth in the nation) saved by a historic preservation effort.  In the past century it has continued to operate as a meeting space and a free speech zone where many dissenting opinions have been voiced over they years.

A beautiful, curving stairwell in Old South Meeting House
A beautiful, curving stairwell in Old South Meeting House

On Friday night I explored this building from bottom to top, starting with the unaffiliated bookstore in the basement.  Inside the hall of the meetinghouse, OSMH staff gathered together my fellow tourism industry folks and I and delivered a short lecture on the history and architecture of the building.  Then we were let loose to explore.  I started by going to the balcony and joining a tour of the steeple.  Inside the steeple it’s dark, dusty, and the stairways are crooked with low headway.  We went up one level to the site of the most significant library in colonial America, where Reverend Thomas Prince collected thousands of books.  Some were destroyed by the vindictive Redcoats but many still survive in the Rare Books collection at Boston Public Library.  Up a few more levels and we’re in the belfry although the bell itself long ago moved to Copley Square’s Old South Church.  Finally we reach the top.  For safety reasons we couldn’t go on the balcony but were able to peek out the door for a unique perspective on Washington Street and the surrounding skyscrapers.

Peeking through the steeple railing at Washington Street below
Peeking through the steeple railing at Washington Street below

Down below, I explored both balcony levels and the many elegant stairwells of Old South.  I also availed myself to the opportunity of taking the pulpit and pretending I am a Puritan minister preaching a 4 hour sermon from high above the congregation. All in all it was a great time and fulfilled all my history geek desires.  Thanks to Robin DeBlosi and the rest of the Old South staff for letting us come in and play.  Check out all of my pictures from last night’s event online.

Calling down fire & brimstone on the sinners in the hands of an angry God
Calling down fire & brimstone on the sinners in the hands of an angry God

If you haven’t been to Old South Meeting House or haven’t been in a long time, it’s worth checking out.  The musuem is opened daily throughout the year from 9:30-5 (April-October) and 10-4 (November-March).  Admission includes the history of the church and Tea Party, The Voices of Protest exhibit about free speech over the centuries, scavenger hunts and an audio program.  The new Patriot’s Pass offers combined admission to Old South and The Paul Revere House for just $8 adults, $2 children.

Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon


While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Italian-American, it also helped that there was one day a year where everyone wanted to be Irish.  The element of pride was strong.

Things started to change when I moved to Virginia.  If people celebrated St. Patrick’s day at all it was at a most superficial and sterotypical levely.  Mostly it was just an excuse to get drunk.  I thought St. Patrick’s Day would be better when I moved to Boston, but even in this most Irish of American cities I find the magic of my childhood lacking.  I still look forward to St. Patrick’s Day but usually end up a little disappointed.  Here are some things that contribute to my ambivalence:

  • Wearing of the green – not bad in itself although some people really stretch the definition of green to include lime, chartreuse, olive drab and teal.  Worse, they wear all those colors at once.  I’m more perturbed by the self-imposed enforcers who critcize anyone in green.  In years past I’ve worn sweaters made in Ireland thinking it more authentic, but there’s no pleasing the Green Team.  Which brings me to:
  • Pinching – Who came up with this crock?  I lived 18-years in an Irish-American family interacting with Irish-American communities before I ever heard of the idea that you pinch people who don’t wear green when I started college.  People act as if it’s some ancient Irish tradition, but I’m certain it’s a fairly recently innovation created to appeal to everyone’s inner sadist and I hope it goes away soon.
  • Beads – It seems that wearing cheap plastic green beads is the thing to do these days on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s an obvious rip-off of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras.  Granted, both holidays are about a month a part, have Catholic roots, and have a lot of revelry, but IIRC even in Mardi Gras the beads are a cheapening of a richer holiday tradition.  Lets can this one too.
  • 364 days a year, one can visit a pub in the greater Boston and hear a great performance of Irish music – traditional or contemporary – and meet interesting people while quaffing a tasty Irish beer.  One day a year you can wedge yourself into an Irish pub with a bunch of drunken frat boys, listen to cheezy Oirish music and drink green-dyed Corona and pay a 20$ (or more) cover charge for the privilege.  Guess which day this is?
  • Danny Boy – once upon a time this was probably a lovely song, but these days this performance is not too far off the mark:
  • Parades on St. Patrick’s day are a good way to celebrate the arts, culture, faith, and history of the Irish people but (in America at least) they are tainted by homophobia, militarism, and racism.
  • The stupid t-shirts

Could be I’m just a grump.  I’m cheered though that my wife brought home Dubliner cheese and Irish soda bread for supper which we enjoyed with (German) beer and (Italian) pasta.  Then we danced to some Irish music with our little boy.  I’ll need to find some new traditions to make St. Patrick’s Day as memorable for him as it was for me.

Previously:

RetroPost: Happy Π Day


Today we’re celebrating a holiday I learned about two years ago.  It is the only holiday dedicated to a number, the number Π.

As my friend Steve posted on Twitter:

Today’s 3/14 and seriously, I don’t see what’s so hard about finding the end of pie. Just OM NOM NOM and you’re there.

I made sure to commemorate the day with a slice of key lime pie at Doyle’s cafe.

Make sure to listen to this Only a Game broadcast of a Pi recitation contest at Harvard University.  I haven’t been able to find any mention of this event reoccuring this year.

Happy Π  Day, to 3.141 and all!

Best laugh I’ve had all day


Walking across the Weeks Footbridge on Tuesday night, I witnessed a man (or a woman with heavy overcoat & shoulder pads, it was dark) setting up a tripod on the edge of the frozen Charles River. This person then proceeded to film himself standing on the banks of the river while spinning a hula hoop. He actually had two hula hoops and switched back and forth between the two. The second one was “glow-in-the-dark” and gave a nice phosphorescent radiance to the snow.

It’s one of those moments that I wish I remembered to bring a camera with me everywhere or go. Better yet, it would be a good moment to overcome my shyness and ask this person what he was doing. I do hope he was trying to entertain passersby, because I’d rather laugh with him than at him. Maybe the video he made is on the internet already?