Memorial Day Weekend

It's been a glorious weekend so far. Yesterday we were finally able to stock up at Russos on flowers, and my S.O. took our daughter to the Cove in Auburndale to play and enjoy the fabulous weakther. Even the rainstorm later in the day didn't dampen the day -- the sun came out immediately afterwards, treating us to a spectacular double rainbow.

On Sunday, we strolled through the Calvary Cemetery. Many families were out remembering their relatives, and every veteran's grave, even those who have no living relatives to plant flowers, had an American flag. It is a special that we have this day to honor their service to our country.

We also had a picnic by the Riverwalk, where the waterfall marks the location of the old dye factory (now an extension of the Shaw's parking lot). No more alewife are jumping, but it was a pretty site, with lots of birds, wildflowers and the sound of rushing water. Our friends from Boston were amazed at this spot; they only knew about the Espanade downtown and the riverside parks in Cambridge and Allston.


Russos Madness!

My S.O. went to Russos yesterday afternoon (Friday) to finally get some plants for the garden. After four rainy weekends, and the windstorm, our garden is several weeks behind schedule. We don't even have any planters set up, except for some petunias in the flowerbox.

Looks like we are not the only ones in this situation. Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, which is supposed to be partly sunny, hundreds of people descended upon Russos yesterday. It was a madhouse. My S.O. circled through the lot three times before giving up and going to the yarn store in the River Street plaza (Waltham).


Pee Wee's worthy successor

In the 1980s, there were four movies that I identified with: Blade Runner, Brazil, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and Repo Man.

I have found a worthy successor to one of them: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It is the perfect, irrelevant, stream-of-conciousness replacement to Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I rented Harold and Kumar from the Waltham Public Library for $1.

Large Marge, RIP. Freakshow is here.

Where have all the paperboys gone?

This morning in Newton I saw a car throwing plastic-wrapped copies of the Boston Globe into driveways on Cherry Street. This is a trend that started about 15 years ago, by my reckoning. Are there any paperboys (or girls) left in Newton or Waltham?

I friend of mine in High School had been a paperboy in his Newton Corner neighborhood when he was younger. It was a tough route -- lots of steep hills -- but it was a family thing, he had inherited the route from his sister, who had gotten it from her twin brother, who had gotten it from his older brother. In my neighborhood, a kid who lived on Watertown Street delivered the News Tribune every afternoon after school.

But now you don't see kids delivering papers. It's all men driving small Korean cars who no doubt have other jobs, too -- I don't think you can make much of a living delivering papers.

But here's a thought -- maybe the adults doing this job now were the paperboys and girls of yesteryear. It would be interesting to ask them ...


Another problem with The Ride

The Boston Herald has a story this morning about The Ride, and how people are angry at the MBTA for delays and other problems.

I have another beef with The Ride: the practices of some of the drivers, who whip around our neighborhood at high speeds, idle on side streets for long stretches of time, and stop in the middle of High Street in Waltham to chat with each other. They apparently have a base on Calvary Street, and I think have some kind of relationship with Veterans Taxi of Newton (which is across the border in Waltham, at the corner of High Street and Parmenter.)

I saw a sign that one frustrated neighbor put on their front porch, asking The Ride drivers not to idle in front of their house. I agree -- if they want to idle while they wait for their next assignment, they should do it in their own lot. They should also not go speeding down side streets -- this is a residential neighborhood with kids and senior citizens wandering about.

Why Newton fares worse in storms than Waltham

The storm was definitely worse last night ... the wind was really ripping around the house and in the morning there was a lot more debris on the ground.

I also noticed downed trees and wires when I drove to work this morning. I am going to go out on a limb here (pun absolutely intended) and speculate that this type of weather event probably affects Newton more than Waltham. The reason: there are more trees in Newton, and they are more likely to bring down power, telephone, and cable TV wires.

Newton has a much older and more active curbside tree-planting program. It's pretty, but it comes at a cost, in terms of more money spent on planting, trimming, and treating them (not to mention raking up the leaves in fall!). The city sends crews out every year to trim and prune the curbside trees, mostly Norway maples so they grow around the wires, but when there's a big storm, they really bring down a lot of wires.

Waltham has tried to plant trees on some streets, but others are completely bare. And forget about trying to get the City Government to help. They'll tell you there's a two-year waiting list, and then do nothing, hoping you've moved or have forgotten. That's been my experience, at least.



Can you believe the weather we've been having? It's like Scotland in
March outside. We didn't have any downed branches or trees, but I did
hear sirens throughout the night last night.

The Herald had an article about how all of the nurseries are hurting,
and the same must be true of a lot of other businesses that depend on
weekend traffic. We haven't had a decent weekend since April, and it
looks like this weekend will suck, too. Too bad -- we were planning on
going down to the Riverwalk with friends to have a picnic on Sunday.
Looks like we will be going to Chung Shin Yuan on California Street
(best authentic Chinese brunch in Newton or Waltham!) instead.


Oil paint on the way out?

Interesting story from the Washington Post .... some mid-Atlantic states are phasing out the sale of oil-based paint. Sales of oil-based paint are declining anyway (something like 15%), but among enthusiasts there has been a desperate rush to stockpile oil paint, or import from states like Virginia, which still allow its use.

I prefer latex paint myself. I painted the house last year and it was relatively easy to clean up, without having to use spirits.


Newton Plant Sale -- Ripoff!

Forgot to mention the plant sale, which took place over the weekend at Newton City Hall. My mom had reported bargains, but when my dad and my significant other went to investigate, they said it was a ripoff.

True, the proceeds went to charity, but the markup was four or five times -- my dad saw a plant at the Newton Plant sale which cost between 10 and 15 dollars, and the next day saw the same plant at Russos in Watertown for four/$10. Some people in the Garden City can afford the markup, but we're not one of them. We'll go to Russos when
the weather improves, maybe over Memorial Day weekend.


Ode to Brighams

Sunday afternoon ... perfect time for a few scoops of Brighams Mocha Almond. What's this? Only enough for half a cup? Better open that quart of Curse Reversed, then, to top it off. Mmmm. Might as well have another, too ...

For newcomers to eastern Massachusetts, or for those too young to remember when top-quality national ice cream brands like Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerries didn't exist, Brighams is the quintessential gourmet local ice cream brand. It's absolutely delicious -- Hood, Breyers, and Edy's simply don't compare -- and whenever there's a discount on Brighams at Shaws (and sometimes when there's not) I usually pick up a few quarts of my favorite flavors.

There was a time when Brighams restaurants dotted Waltham and Newton -- Newton Center had one, as did the River Street shopping center where A.J. Wright's is now. West Newton had one where the upper part of CVS is until the early 1980s, then it disappeared for a few years and came back to the other corner, where Lumiere is now.

But a combination of factors led to the demise of the restaurants. Concern over fat was one, a desire for better food than deep fried chicken strips was another, and the supermarket introduction of decent national ice cream brands like Haagen Dazs was a third. I made a pilgrimage of sorts to the flagship Brighams restaurant in Arlington (right next to the factory) about five or six years ago, and the demographic profile of the customer base was telling -- although the restaurant was crowded, most people there were senior citizens.

Changing customer tastes and increased competition hurt profit margins, and this spelled doom for the Brighams restaurants. In Newton and Waltham, a few of the restaurants limped along but they gradually dropped away. The last one I know of was the Waltham branch on River Street, which closed maybe two or three years ago. It was kind of sad ... it was always nearly empty, except for a hard-core crowd of smokers. I never even bought pre-packed ice cream there, as the Shaws next door sold it for slightly cheaper.

But at least you can still buy Brighams at Shaws and Star. It's a testament to the quality of the ice cream and the loyalty of its customer base that Brighams can still survive through limited supermarket sales without any advertising that I am aware of. They've rolled out a few new flavors in the past few years; some are really good (like Reverse the Curse, renamed Curse Reversed after the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory) but some aren't so good -- I bought a quart of Whoopie Pie a few weeks ago but didn't finish it. It was too sickly sweet for my taste. My favorites are Rocky Road, Mocha Almond, and Mint Chocolate Chip.

If any Brighams executives are reading, do the brand a favor and spend a little money to have a professional local ad agency strengthen your local profile. Younger people and newcomers have no idea how good Brighams is, and without anyone to tell them, your new customer base will not be able to keep up. Who knows, a little extra promotion may even allow you to expand to new areas in New England, or maybe even New York.


Bad weather, good art

By my reckoning, we haven't had a real sunny weekend for four weeks or maybe even longer. This has made gardening and yard work difficult to complete. Cold and damp has also limited garden activities. Our neighbor who plants a giant vegetable garden yearly has only cleared his plot and set up the beanpoles, otherwise his plot is bare.

We'll probably check out some of the artists at the Newton Open Studios today. It's a pretty impressive collection in the brochure, it is sometimes surprising to me how much creativity lurks behind the local suburban facade.


Repealing laws from a different age

Interesting story in the Globe today about the state legislature repealing a 1675 law banning Indians from entering Boston. Made me wonder how many bizarre old laws are on the books in Newton and Waltham, but are never enforced?

Reminds me of last year's heave-ho of the Blue Laws. Talk about a 19th century anachronism -- until 2004, Mass was probably the only state in the Union where you couldn't buy beer from stores on Sunday. Something to tell the grandkids about ...

Old bridges never die ....

... They just crumble until someone rebuilds them. While driving to work this morning, I noticed the Rte. 30 bridge that goes over Rte. 128 (just past the Charles River Canoe & Kayak Club, Newton Boathouse on Comm Ave.) has a metal plaque that reads "1962", when a big wave of highway expansion was taking place in Boston's suburbs (see yesterday's commentary related to the Mass Pike).

The bridge certainly looks its age -- weeds grow on the sidewalk, there are potholes on the road, and large gaps on the roadway where the bridge starts and ends really do a number on your car's shock absorbers. They've tried to patch some of the bigger holes but it's been a losing battle with the terrible winter we've just had and the wet weather in the spring. I am not sure if this is a state or a city responsibility, but at some point the bridge will need to be rebuilt or replaced ... not a fun project, considering the bridge's location straddling the state's busiest highway.


Another local blog ...

Again, not particular to Waltham or Newton, but about eastern mass local news in general. It's by Town Online, which operates several newspapers in the region, including the Daily News Tribune and the Newton Tab.

It's pretty well written, and generally focussed on news and community. Check it out here.

Indexing Borderline all over the place ...

I've been trying to get this blog in the blog spiders and indexes out there, such as Popdex ... we'll see how this goes. Email me if you spot this blog in a search engine, or anywhere else ...

Another local blog ...

Well, maybe not local to Waltham or Newton, but local to Massachusetts. These folks seem to post pretty regularly:

Kal's World ::: Kal Jones
"One man's look at married life, the New England sports scene, and being a republican in Massachusetts."

All Set in Massachusetts ::: Thadd and Alice
"An Evolving Perspective in Travel, Wine and Food." The food angle is interesting, and they talk about restaurant reviews in the local media. If they haven't done so already, they should come to Moody Street and try some of the amazing restaurants!

... And someone from Waltham -- Yay!

Philosophy Foundation ::: Advaiti
"This is a web log about things we have learned, practiced and experienced as a student at Philosophy Foundation, Waltham, MA."

A sign of trouble ....

Funny story in the Boston Herald this morning about Governor Romney's ban on "monuments to egos" on public signs. Slick apparently doesn't take too kindly to the fact that Turnpike Authority boss Matthew Amorello plasters his mug and name all over rest stops and signage, but never mentions the guv. This is a very visible reminder that Amorello doesn't answer to Romney, and Romney ain't too happy about this, especially after all the bad blood over the Big Dig.

I believe the Rominator is right on this one -- Amorello is a jerk, and there shouldn't be monuments to egos on highway signage, or anything else (including the state website, which Romney didn't build, yet still has his pic!). But Romney seems to forget a primary reason why the Turnpike Authority was set up as an independent authority in the first place -- so pols wouldn't be roasted by voters in commuter suburbs (including Newton) for raising taxes via highway tolls.

Now Romney wants to rein in the Turnpike Authority. But you can bet that he doesn't want to be the person who takes responsibility for tax collection at the tolls, because you can be sure that when he runs for president, a 10 cent increase at the Weston toll plaza will make him a pariah within the GOP -- a Republican governor who raised taxes!

Sorry, Mr. Governor ... you can't have it both ways!


Local blogs?

I've done a cursory search of the blog world, attempting to find Newton or Waltham-oriented blogs. Doesn't seem to be much out there, but that may be related to the fact that searching for blogs on Google or within Blogger is really hit-or-miss. Unlike web pages and news pages, indexing for blog pages is haphazard. The best bet may be to follow trackbacks and links from marginally related blogs.

One kinda Newton blog is Brigita, at http://brigita.blogspot.com/ ...

Springtime in the Garden and Watch cities

It's interesting to see the delayed budding of some species of trees. On Cherry Street I saw a giant tree which I thought was dead, because all of its neighbors are fully leafed, but on closer inspection it turns out the buds are just coming out.

We have a Rose of Sharon which we thought was killed by the bitter cold over the winter of 2003-2004, but it was able to recover a few leaves last year on the main branches. This year it is still lagging, but the buds are definitely coming out.

Inaugural post ...

My first foray into a personal-themed blog, about my hometowns. Newton is where I grew up, and Waltham is where I live now. The plan is to make observations every few days about these two great cities and the ways they have changed, as well as the people and places that make them so special.