Newton housing bubble?

For a few years I have been thinking, how long can the rise in local housing prices continue? Newton and Waltham, and for that matter, the entire eastern Massachusetts region, is collectively an attractive place to live, has lots of career opportunities, attracts thousands of new residents every year, and has a limited supply of undeveloped land on which to build new housing. On a strict supply-and-demand argument, it would seem that the sky's the limit for local housing prices.

On the other hand, there has to be a cutoff point, at which people say, it does not make sense for me practically or as an investment to buy that house at that price, considering the amount of money my family has now, and will make in the future. When one considers that the monthly mortgage obligation for a young family buying a single family home in Waltham or a condo in Newton will likely be over $3000, and rental prices are half that, the choice of whether to rent or buy becomes much clearer.

I think prices have reached that threshhold. I have noticed in Newton particularly that there are lots of properties on the market that have "for sale" signs for months, and I know some people in Newton who had to lower the asking price on their house by $50,000 and still it hasn't sold. On Parmenter there is a string of attractive houses and condos with "For Sale" signs, and one or two on Falmouth Road, too. An oversupply, or is this just the traditional house-hunting season with a lot of turnover?

In Waltham, two houses in our borderline neighborhood sold within a week or two of being put up for sale, but prices here are lower, and there is a lot of competition for detached single family homes near Boston and 128 that a young family, at a stretch, can buy. A young family with similar assets ten years ago could have bought something in Newton, but not anymore, so the houses on the other side of the border, on Parmenter and Falmouth, don't get as much interest.


Hot! Hot! Hot!

It is a scorcher this weekend, with temps in the 90s, but I have to say, it's nothing compared to the heat and miserable humidity we had two weekends ago. Actually, now it gets downright pleasant after 6 pm. We're having a BBQ with family this evening, looking forward to it.

Another thing I am looking forward to is the 4th of July celebrations. We live close to both Albermarle, where Newton has its fireworks, and various spots to watch the Waltham fireworks, which take place at Leary Field, on Bacon Street (parking is a mess -- I suggest leaving the car near the commons and walking up Lexington Street). Hope to see lots of folks out there on Independence Day ...


Whittemore planning meeting

I attended the Whittemore planning meeting on Wednesday night, along with about 75 other people. It was an informative meeting, and it was nice to see our elected representatives (including Mayor McCarthy) and school officials present.

But it's also clear that a lot of work needs to be done in two areas: traffic and temporary relocation while Whittemore is rebuilt. The superintendent basically admitted he had no idea what would happen when the main entrance anbd dropoff area is switched around to Hovey, apparently because of requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here's some advice: bring in the traffic experts.

The other issue is where the kids will go to school while Whittemore is under construction. The city originally wanted to send them all to South Middle School, but a group of parents were adamant that South was the wrong place to send the kids, basically because there is no
outside play area. They prefered Fitch or Banks, but the problem with that is Fitch is not big enough, and Banks has a terrible parking problem already, without the addition of dozens of Whittemore parents picking up and dropping off their children. The city pointed out that changing to either school would require bussing, which would cost money, naturally -- although I had a tough time believing the $200,000 cited in the News Tribune. The suggestion by some parents to break up the kids into two groups -- older kids to South, younger kids to somewhere else -- was shot down by the Whittemore principal, who
insists that all the kids must remain together, and she doesn't want her special ed and art teachers running back and forth between two schools.

Well, clearly something has to give. I also hope that the city doesn't
assume the most shrill complainers at the meeting are representative of the other Whittemore parents and neighbors. As usual, everyone wants what's best for their own kids or own situation, but everyone should consider what other people think, too.

Also, one very important constituency was completely absent from the meeting -- the Hispanic parents, whose kids form a large proportion of the Whittemore student body. I would like to suggest that the city
councillors invite them next time, and make arrangements for someone to interpret for them. Not all of them can drive, and I am sure they would have issues with kids being sent to an alternate location across the city.


Old School: Oak Square & Davis School

Sad story in the Boston Globe today, about the closure of a Catholic school in Oak Square in Brighton. It's close enough to Newton Corner that some Catholic families from Newton sent their kids to Our Lady of the Presentation School in Oak Square, rather than Our Lady's in the Lake.

Anyway, the focus of the story is what the closure means for the neighborhood.

The prognosis is not good. It was seen, along with the Y and the fire station, as one of the anchors of the community, and one of the few reasons families were willing to stay in the area in the face of increasing numbers of college students renting in Oak Square. Now that it's been closed by the archdiocese, some of these old families are pulling out for the suburbs.

I know how school closures can hurt neighborhoods. I went to the wonderful Davis School in West Newton, which was the focus of many family-oriented neighborhoods north of the Mass Pike until the city closed the school 25 years ago (the kids on West Newton Hill south of the pike tended to go Claflin or Pierce). There was an active PTA, loads of activities like the famous Halloween party, a great new gym, and a kids' library where I developed my love for reading and history.

I was in 5th grade when Davis closed. Kids were sent to Franklin or Horace Mann instead, or went to private or Catholic schools. It was very disruptive for a lot of families and local neighborhoods, and West Newton square seemed to lose something that day in June 1980. The closure of the branch library on Chestnut Street a few years later really turned West Newton Square from a part of the community to more of a commercial center.


When schools get rebuilt ...

While everyone in Newton is talking about what to do with Newton
North, people in our borderline neighborhood are concerned about the
rebuild of Whittemore elementary. This has been under discussion for a
few years, but until now there has been little mention in the
newspaper and no news from the Waltham City Government.

But this Wednesday at 7 pm there will be a planning meeting, in which
members of the public are welcome to attend. One thing that interests
me is the alleged plan to shift the main entrance of the school from
Parmenter to Hovey. As anyone who lives in the neighborhood knows,
Hovey is already difficult to pass at peak times in the morning --
people park their cars on either side of the road to drop their kids
off at the playground. Making this the main entrance for busses and
everyone else would be a disaster.

On the other hand, the planners may have a solution in mind, or some
other good reason to switch the entrances. I'll be all ears ...


Lazy dog owners in Newton and Waltham

Most mornings, I drop my daughter off at her preschool in Newton. On warm days, they play outside in the fenced-in playground next to the building, which is accessed via walking across the lawn to the fence gate.

Next to the playground is an apartment building, which has a side door opening onto the lawn. This morning, as I helped my daughter get out of the car, I noticed a young man letting his large dog out onto the lawn to do his doggie business. The man had obviously just rolled out of bed, because he was not wearing shoes and his hair was messed up. He watched from the doorway as the dog squatted to start taking a dump. I was about to say something to him -- kids and parents walk across the lawn to drop off at the playground -- but someone beat me to it. The caretaker of the building that houses the school, playground, and lawn, had come out to mow the lawn and he was very upset about the lazy dog owner letting his dog use the lawn as his private dumping ground.

"I told you, don't let your dog crap on the lawn!" he said angrily. "I got to clean it up!"

Obviously this was an ongoing problem. The young dog owner shuffled across the lawn to grab the dog by his collar, but didn't say anything for about 20 seconds, while the caretaker continued to harangue him. Then he said, "Calm down. Calm down. He's just urinating."

"Then let him urinate in your apartment. We got kids around here!"

The caretaker is absolutely right, and this young guy, who is too lazy to take his hound out for a proper walk and clean up after the mess, is absolutely wrong, and he knows it. But he clearly doesn't give a toss -- he's been warned before, and didn't change his ways.

I see a lot of responsible dog owners in Newton and Waltham, but there's a hard-core minority who are too lazy to clean up after their pets. I see the evidence on the street, and in front of my house, which really pisses me off.

There are fines and ordinances against this, and sometimes they are actually enforced: Once I saw someone fined by the police for letting their dog take an early-morning dump on the grounds of the Whittemore elementary school in Waltham. What are they thinking? Do they feel no shame? Do they understand that people might be angry about their kids having to dodge dog feces when at school?

Final note: After observing this encounter this morning, my daughter didn't say anything. It was the first time she had seen adults argue in this way, and probably not the last.


Waltham DPW workers get a slap on the wrist for theft

Check this out. A Waltham police investigation finds that a few DPW workers have been using city equipment to pave private driveways, and charging the city overtime to do it! According to Mary Murray's article in the News-Tribune, "at least two DPW employees stated it has been longstanding practice to allow city employees to borrow city equipment for personal use."

This is outright theft of city resources and money. But what does the city government plan to do about it? Press charges? Fire the workers involved? Determine how much was stolen, and force the people involved to reimburse the city? Expand the investigation to see if other city resources were stolen, or other employees were involved?

No. "Mayor Jeannette McCarthy said . . . her office will try to discipline the employees."

"Try"? That doesn't sound too confident. And "discipline"? Isn't that another way of saying "do nothing of substance"?

I don't know what kind of personal relationships are at play here, but something is not right when theft of city resources is treated like it's no big deal. The mayor has shown she's willing to stand up to developer greed, but when it's greed by a few rotten apples in the DPW, she doesn't want to do anything of substance.

Also, shouldn't the prosecutors get involved in a case like this, theft of city resources by city employees?


Fazed by the haze

It was one of those dead, still, hazy days that make summer weekends absolutely unpleasant. No one was out after lunchtime ... probably hunkering down someplace with air con, or at the beach. Hard to believe I was complaining about Scotland in March a few weeks ago!

Last year it wasn't nearly so bad. We had a mild summer -- as I recall, we only used the air-con in our bedrooms about five or six times, and only to sleep. The rest of the summer we didn't need it, thank goodness.

This year, we are not so lucky. I installed the air conditioners in our room and our daughter's bedroom about a week ago, and we've used it every night for at least two or three hours.

But during the day, we don't use them ... they're only upstairs, and not on the first floor, and it's too expensive to keep them running all day. So today I escaped with the kids to the basement playroom where it was cool. That reduced the sticky factor a bit -- we have a dehumidifier running down there, and in weather like this I have to empty the 22-pint tank once per day.

In the evening, though, life returns to normal ... it cools down and there's more shade, so we can go to the backyard and the let the kids play around in the sprinkler. At night, a nice breeze comes up, and we open the windows to let the house air out.

But still, I can't wait until the humidity dies down. "It's not the heat, it's the humidity!" How true ...


Old School: Red truck ice cream guy

Ever since moving to this borderline neighborhood, we've taken note of the local ice cream truck. He starts making the rounds in mid-May, and now we hear him prowling the streets every afternoon and early evening. He drives an ancient red pickup truck with a freezer mounted on the back, with the usual assortment of sno-cones, fudgsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and the like. His range goes as far south as Webster street in Newton, and I think past High Street in Waltham.

The first or second summer we lived here some friends from NYC visited and they were kind of surprised to see the old school ice cream truck. One of them had grown up in suburban NJ but thought ice cream trucks had gone the way of paperboys, i.e. victims of the 7-Elevenization of America and no-one wanting to do that kind of work anymore. I was proud to prove him wrong ....


Old School: Citizen soldier

I get my hair cut at Trundle's Hair Trends, in the River Street plaza in Waltham where Shaws and AJ Wrights is located. Strip mall barbers are usually of the Supercuts variety, but Trundle's is an old-school place for men. Piles of hair on the scuffed linoleum floor, personal shaving jars in racks by the mirrors, old model airplanes hanging from the ceiling, AM sports radio playing in the background, and Maxim and Sports Illustrated and the Herald in the racks in the waiting area. The talk is about sports, local government, and kids. I've been coming there for about four or five years.

Bob's from Newton, but has been operating the Waltham shop for years, with his son sometimes pitching in on the weekend. And one day a week an older guy helps out. Today I got my hair cut there in the morning, and the old-timer waved me to the seat. He asked me how I wanted it done, and after he started cutting I asked how often he worked. He told me one day; the rest of the time he golfed.

"That's pretty good, if you can spend six days a week doing that. Where do you play?"

"Wayland Country Club. Sometimes with my sons and grandson."

"How long you been golfing there?"

"Since the 1940s."

"Wow! That must make you one of their most distinguished members."

"Yep. They have me in the founder's club (or something like that) which gets me into tourneys every week and some weekends. I was golfing there when it was just 9 links, and the playing fees was just a dollar. That was before the Quirk brothers bought it."

"You mean, the car dealers?"

"Yep. They expanded to 18 and raised the price, naturally."

We talked some more, and it turned out he had been in the army in WWII. he was a Sherman tank driver ("They had me be in armor, even though I had been a barber for eight years!").

He was drafted in '43, after his three older brothers were drafted, they sent him to Fort Polk (?) in Louisiana to train on the Sherman and its 75 mm gun -- later changed to 90mm, to handle the better equipped German tanks. His unit -- the third armored division -- came on at Normandy, fought in the battle of the Bulge, and then into Germany. 18 or 19 months, he said, and there were some terrible times, like when their commander General Rose had been captured by the Germans, and executed because he was Jewish. ("We really gave them hell the next day.") He still remembered Germany fondly despite the war, but hasn't been back for 60 years; he says his wife doesn't want to go and he doesn't like to fly.

But it was a pleasure talking with someone like him, and a little lesson in history. This was a man who started cutting hair 70 years before in the Great Depression, put down his shears to serve his country, and came back to his old life, plus regular golf games out in Wayland.

I never got his name, but say hi and thanks if you see him at Trundles.


Zagat on Boston restaurant trends

Great story in the Herald today about the most recent results of the local Zagat restaurant survey.

The most interesting point: Japanese restaurants are winning the top spots in cities across the country, including Boston. Considering most people around here 15 years ago would have thrown up at the thought of eating raw fish, that's a pretty amazing statistic. Too bad there's no authentic Japanese food in Newton or Waltham, though ... we usually go to Sushi 21 in Watertown, or Blue Fin in Porter Square when the urge strikes. These restaurants are run by Japanese, and according to my wife, who lived in Japan, the food is just about right. A lot of "Japanese" restaurants around here are run by Koreans or Chinese, trying to cash in on the craze for Japanese food.

Another interesting point: 76% of Zagat respondents listed service as the most irritating aspect of dining out, over price, noise, parking etc. I seldom find great service at local restaurants, but on the other hand, I think parking and cleanliness are bigger problems.

Third point: People don't dress up anymore when they go out. That doesn't surprise me either. Who wants to wear a stuffy suit and tie to eat?


Moody street on a perfect summer evening

I've been on a negative tear over the last few days, so I thought I would blog about the beautiful Sunday evening scene on Moody Street a few days ago.

My wife and I had just finished fixing up the patio with plants and furniture, had given the kids (and ourselves) baths, and needed to get out of the house. It had been months since we had gone down to downtown Waltham for a meal, and I wanted to try something new. The previous day, exiting the Citizen's Bank parking lot on Charles St., I had seen a cozy little restaurant, Taquiera Mexicana, with an outdoor seating area. A perfect place for a breezy, warm Sunday evening dinner.

And it was perfect. We had a table at the corner of the outdoor patio, each had a beer, and some pretty darn good Mexican food. There were lots of options, familiar and otherwise, and we tried a stewed pork platter (served with tortillas) and a type of fried taco. Our daughter had chicken strips and fries, and our son chewed on a green plastic turtle that we had brought along. The breeze was nice, and we could watch people seated around us and on the street, and all was good with the world. The price: About $33, inc. tips.

I thought, what a perfect night for an ice cream. We piled in the car and headed up Moody Street toward Lizzy's. There were tons of people out for a stroll in their shorts and short-sleeved shirts, and the Mexican restaurant fronting the river was packed, with all of the outdoor tables occupied. Lizzy's was packed too, with a line coming out of the door. Not surprising -- who can resist an ice cream on an evening like this?


Once again, out-of-control developers ruining Waltham

Latest victim of Waltham's development spree -- a five and half foot wide beech tree that got in the way of a new condominum.

Was the tree sick, or in danger of damaging someone's home? No, says Roberto Pandolfi of Sachem Reality: "It was the only way of making the driveway work on that property."

Oh, and he'll use some of the wood to make benches for Whittemore elementary school. Great, Bob -- we'll be sure to remind the kids about the generosity of your development company!

Another hostile Globe story on "newcomers"

For years, the Boston Globe has been running stories and columns about old neighborhoods changing as prices rise and "newcomers" move in. The tone of the stories are resentful toward the newcomers in a subtle or outright hostile way. I remember a Brian McGrory column from a few years ago which ripped into "Volvo-driving" young parents taking over working-class Arlington. In the Sunday globe, there was an article about communities along the Mystic River being targeted for gentrification.

Today's story by Lisa Wangsness on West Roxbury's changing face is not full of vitriol, but the resentment is still there. Snobby restaurants and shops are sprouting up, which would not "be remarkable in a wealthy Boston suburb, or any of the McMansion-dotted exurbs around the country." In other words, these types of places are better suited for the McMansion crowd, not people "from" West Roxbury who can't possibly like or afford pan-seared haddock in garlic butter, much less sit at the same table as some snooty newcomer!

And the people who are coming in, replacing the Irish-American families! Young families and couples from the suburbs, or people who came to Boston to go to school and now want to settle down here. The article makes a point of describing one of the newcomers by their sexual orientation, "a lesbian couple from the suburbs."

These newcomers don't have the time for the old community activities, claims the Globe: "While community meetings still attract scores, even hundreds, to discuss issues like downtown parking, many of the newcomers don't have time for such things." And they don't vote for the local Irish-American political establishment, either ... one young couple says they are voting for the son of Korean immigrants. The tone of the article is, can you believe these newcomers? The nerve, voting for someone who isn't "from" the area!

Here's a question for the Globe: When you set out to do another formulaic gentrification story that makes home-buying newcomers out to be uncaring, self-centered carpetbaggers, did you make the effort to back up your assertions with factual data? Did you poll the patrons of the glitzy bistros, see if they grew up in a McMansion, or grew up in a local triple decker? Did you poll the people attending the community meetings, and see how many are newcomers, vs. how many are not, or whether they congregate on opposite sides of the meeting room? Do you have any other demographic data to back up the assertion that they do not care about local community issues, or don't vote for the local politicians? Or are just a few anecdotes from local pols and a few harried newcomers enough to get your story?

What about PTA meetings? These newcomers are likely to have young kids attending local schools -- are they too busy to join the PTA? Or you didn't even bother checking, did you?

And here's another question -- what about immigrants? Boston has had a large immigrant population since the early 1800s, and now is no different -- look at all of the Vietnamese, Hatian, and central American-owned stores and restaurants in other parts of Boston. But there is no mention of immigrants moving to West Roxbury, displacing old Irish families, and not getting involved in local community activities. Are they just not there, or they don't patronize restaurants that serve pan-seared sea bass? Or is it taboo for the Globe to criticize neighborhood newcomers who happen to be from immigrant families? Apparently the only newcomers that are worthy of resentment are rich, young, Volvo-driving couples who graduated from local colleges, or came from the suburbs.

Here's a lesson for Globe editors and writers who love to rip young couples and other outsiders for "taking over" established neighborhoods in Boston and the suburbs: Read "A Common Ground," particularly the chapter where newcomers revitalize an old school in the South End. Then read The Boston Irish, which details the suspicion, resentment, and negative stereotypes heaped upon Irish immigrants when they arrived in Boston in large numbers, starting in the early 1800s.

Then take field trip to Ronan Park in Dorchester, which until recently was tended by John Beresford, a native of Virginia. Even though he was a newcomer, an important part of his life was centered around the park and his community -- old-timers and newcomers alike. He played Santa Claus during the holidays for Boston's kids from all backgrounds, and frequently liased with local officials to improve the quality of life in his neighborhood. He lost his life after attempting to stop two young men, probably from the neighborhood, who prefered to prey on others in the community by robbing them. They killed Beresford.

But I never saw a Globe report about him or what he was doing for the community until he died. In a way it's not surprising -- such a story would go against the negative stereotypes of newcomers that the Globe fosters.


Jaws and what's wrong with local TV news

If you've been watching the local TV news over the past few days, you probably have noticed the wave of fluff about the 30th anniversary of the movie Jaws.

Now, I like Jaws as much as the next guy. A group of older kids took me to see it at the old Newton Corner movie theater (the Paramount? My mind is fuzzy on this point) when I was just six or seven and I was absolutely terrified. I had to leave the theater 4 times, prentending to go to the bathroom. I don't think I went swimming in the ocean for two or three years after that.

But I have to ask: Is the decades-long passing of a big movie cause for celebration? Are we going to mark "anniversaries" for Star Wars, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark?

And why 30? Isn't 25 the big anniversary? If so, was this celebrated in 2000? I don't remember seeing anything about it.

But then I notice that Edgartown on the Vineyard has set up a fake shark, and some cast and crew are there for the event. It seems like this has been organized by the town or someone in the town, and the news media are going along with it. But that's not the way it's being portrayed on the TV reports -- lots of shots of people wearing Jaws shirts, some of the actors and crew reminiscing about the movie, clips of the film, people sticking their heads in the fake shark's mouth, and a general portrayal of a spontaneous or nearly spontaneous celebration, bordering on tradition.

But it's not. The media is being used, willingly, and they are not being honest about it. This free advertising benefits a few select groups: the tourist industry on the Vineyard, the ferry service, the makers of the DVD ... but these groups' role in getting the TV crews to the island is not mentioned. It should be.

I have no problem with towns showcasing their history. Waltham, after all, has a great historical museum in the old mill next to the Charles, as does Newton, at the Jackson Homestead. But remember that these two museums showcase the people, businesses, and things that made lasting impressions upon the two communities. Jaws did nothing of the sort for Edgartown.

A very tenuous pop culture connection is hardly worthy of museum, or its own anniversary. But the trend these days is to make a big deal about these connections, look at the "Bewtiched" statue they are making in Salem. That actress was in town for one episode in the early 60s that hardly anyone remembers, and now she gets a statue?

Yet TV news crews seldom come down to the historical museums in Waltham or Newton, or for that matter, Edgartown or Salem. To producers, editors, and reporters, local communities' shallow connections to pop culture history are always more newsworthy than the centuries of real history that form the foundations of these communities.


Science Fiction movies

Since getting a DVD player, we've been sampling a lot of the DVDs available for rent at the Waltham Public Library.

One of my favorite genres is Science Fiction. I was only 8 when Star Wars came out, and grew up on a diet of sci-fi movies, TV shows, and books. I define SF very widely -- basically, if it has aliens or is about the future or an alternate, fantastic reality, it's SF in my book.

My favorite old school sci-fi movies were Star Wars I and II, Blade Runner, Silent Running, the first few Star Trek movies (until that stupid one where they went to San Francisco), and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also liked the Road Warrior, but not its prequel Mad Max or sequel with Tina Turner. Terminator and Robocop were good, but I wouldn't rent them. The 1980 Thing was awesome, but the earlier one from the 1950s had terrible dialogue and pacing. Another 1950s recreation that was much better the second time around was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with Donald Sutherland. That was scary.

Here's an obscurity: Starship Invasion, which features mass suicides. That freaked out me and my best friend when it came out in the late 1970s; somehow our parents let us see it down at the West Newton Cinema. This was when "R" ratings were ignored by the management down there.

In the 90s I got out of touch with sci-fi films. I didn't own a VCR, and only occasionally went to movies. I saw a terrible film -- can't remember the title -- with Keanu Reeves and Henry Rollins based on a terrific cyberpunk novella by William Gibson. It just didn't translate to film, or seemed too contrived and Hollywoody. Reeves redeemed himself in 1999 with the Matrix, but from what I have heard, the sequels sucked.

Another 90s film that was totally Hollywood, but was actually pretty good, was that one set on Mars with Arnold. Can't remember the title. Judge Dredd was good, too. The Fifth Element was interesting in its portrayal of a mixed-race future society -- that's really where we're going -- but the ending was pathetic. Another Bruce Willis sci-fi movie was the excellent Twelve Monkeys, which I saw twice.

I saw the first Star Wars prequel and it sucked. It was uncomfortable sitting in the theatre, watching that movie. The only good thing I can say about it is the Simpsons episode that makes fun of it ("Cosmic Wars") was hilarious.

I never saw the TV series X-Files before seeing the movie, which might explain why I left the theater scratching my head. Dark City was very atmospheric and dark, but the snivelling introduction by Kiefer Sutherland almost ruined it.

Anyway, back to the recent SF DVDs at WPL. I've rented about four sci-fi movies in the past year or two. Solaris (George Clooney) was really great, even though I hadn't heard of it when it was in theatres. Even my wife thought it was thought-provoking, and she generally doesn't care for SF. A classic sleeper, I will surely rent it again.

AI was also very special and thought-provoking, although I wish they hadn't had that ending. It seems that a lot of good sci-fi movies are ruined by happy endings, which seem to be dictated by Hollywood formulas and marketing needs ("make sure they leave the theater smiling!") rather than good storytelling. The best ones that I've mentioned here tend to have ambiguous (Blade Runner, Solaris) or downright negative endings (Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

Now for the bad DVDs: Minority Report had some interesting parts and concepts, but the last 30 minutes were so confusing yet typically Hollywood -- hero vs. an evil conspiracy.

And last night we rented I, Robot. The Three Laws (based on Asimov's earlier work) was intriguing, but this movie executed it so poorly, and in such expected Hollywood fashion -- lots of chases, unbelievable shootouts, last-second saves, the ho-hum buddy detective characters who are natural opposites, happy endings, and that stupid twirling acrobatic style of filming that Hollywood and TV commercials ripped off from Hong Kong movies. Two thumbs down on this one.

But at least the price was right -- $1/week!


Planting & patio prepping

This weekend is shaping to be good gardening weather, and we will be busy planting, cleaning pots and lawn furniture, and generally getting ready for the summer. We have a BBQ a few weeks from now, so everything needs to be ready by then.

Also, our daughter starts summer camp next week in Newton. The cost is high but the experience swimming and doing outdoor activities with her pals should be worth it. We have to dress her in her swimsuit and
apply sunscreen to her every morning before we drop her off.


Finally -- Spring!

Last week at this time I was wearing a sweater as we were battered by
gales. Now, on June 1, it finally feels like spring.

Springtime is moving season for a lot of people, and I have noticed a
bunch of "for sale" signs in our neighborhood -- two single-family
homes in Waltham, and a huge multifamily home off of Cherry Street in
Newton. Is this a sign that the housing market is finally cooling off?

I called a friend in Boston who is sick of Roxbury and told him about
one of the places that's for sale around the corner, a nice-looking
bungalow that's perfect for a family (he and his wife have two kids).