Archives for June 2011

For a super-team, this Sox roster sure has a lot of holes

By Devin Shaw  |  And tonight the biggest hole will be on display: Right Field. Truthfully, the current platoon of JD Drew and Mike Cameron has been nothing short of a disaster. The combination currently represents the worst OPS of all right fielders in baseball. Oh, and by the way they represent nearly $22 million of the team payroll.

Which points to another major issue this team faces: money. As constituted, the Red Sox certainly need to make trades to fill holes throughout the roster, but their hands are tied because they are up against their self-induced cap. I don’t blame ownership one bit for not wanting to spend more than $160 million to field a baseball team. The Rays are one game behind the Sox currently, and their payroll is a little less than $42 million! Hell, if I had $160 million I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere with a supermodel watching the sunset.

My dreams aside, no one will argue that the Red Sox need a new right fielder—from within the organization or hired help. And the bullpen is like the cowbell of sports; more is always better. But with the multitude of bad contracts scattered throughout this roster the Red Sox have reached the point where they simply cannot go and get help. Carlos Beltran is available from the Mets and he would certainly look nice in a Red Sox uniform, but that is a pipedream my friends, he won’t be playing in the friendly confines unless he signs as a free agent in the offseason—and by then it will be too late to plug the giant hole in right field.

Michael Cuddyer? Nope. Ryan Ludwick? Not happening. Jeff Francour, at $1.5 million? Maybe.

The only way I can see the Red Sox reaching into their back pockets for some spare-millions is for a young superstar like Matt Kemp from the soap opera they call the LA Dodgers, but there’s a better chance of JD Drew playing hurt then Kemp becoming available. So, stop dreaming…now.

Which leads us to the dilemma the Red Sox face tonight in Philadelphia; the Sox lineup has struggled mightily on this nine game National League tour thus far, and to infuse some offense the team is considering moving Adrian Gonzalez into right field to allow David Ortiz to play first. Let that sink in.

The first half MVP and possible gold glove winning first baseman will be moved from his customary home to the outfield to allow David Ortiz—someone who said in Spring Training he did not know where his glove was—to play first base.

This is sports talk radio stuff, but the sad thing is, they are actually doing it. What if Gonzalez chases a fly ball and injures himself—we lose our best player, and all shot of winning the World Series goes out the window. Even in terms of this game alone, the whole right side defense becomes an absolute joke.

On the off chance that it is smooth sailing tonight in the outfield for Gonzalez, it should never have gotten to this point. This lineup, with this payroll, should be able to carry the Red Sox for nine games without David Ortiz through the lowly NL.

On top of that, John Lackey ($16 million) may need to have elbow surgery, and the short stop situation is hairy at best. So the Red Sox cannot add much if not any payroll and they need: a right fielder, a starting pitcher, a short stop and more bullpen arms.

And this is a super team?

If Theo Epstein had not grossly overpaid players on this roster the Red Sox could go out and fill some of these giant holes. Instead, fans will have to sit back and watch this roster as constituted battle it out for the rest of the season.

Once they get back into AL action the Ortiz problem will fix itself. And eventually Josh Reddick should become the everyday right fielder. Or maybe they go and get someone cheap like Jeff Francour to fill the role. Starting pitching can probably survive until the postseason (if they make it) with Wakefield and Miller as the fourth and fifth starters. And Scutaro hopefully can keep his shoulder tied on until Lowrie returns from his latest vacation to the disabled list. And maybe when Jenks makes it back the bullpen will solidify.

But again, for a team dubbed the “best of all time” with a $160 million payroll this should not be happening. This is no super team—they are a team with too many overpaid players held together with superglue and fantasy baseball-esque lineups hoping they can survive to the playoffs.

So July 31st will be boring for Sox fans, but I have a suspicion that the rest of the season will be very interesting for the Red Sox.

 

Devin Shaw is an avid sports fan and suffers the fate of being related to the owners of the Colonial Times Magazine. He also provides commentary for Rational Talk with Rich Hancock on Rational Radio in Dallas. You can listen to his segments online.

 

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Senator Ken Donnelly

Ken Donnelly

I was honored to have been a part of Lexington’s Memorial Day Ceremonies a few weekends ago. After listening to the speakers and watching such a great showing of community and patriotism, I was inspired to expand on the remarks I shared that morning. For me, it is crucial that we remember and honor those we have lost defending our nation through out the year, not just on Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time to reflect and remember those we have lost while serving our country. It isalso a time to thank the friends and families of these brave men and women for their sacrifice of losing a loved one, so other friends and families may continue to hold their loved ones close. And, it is a time to acknowledge the immense debt of gratitude we owe to all the service men and women of our armed forces. It is a credit to our nation that we have a day set aside every year to honor and memorialize our fallen troops. Each year on Memorial Day, towns and cities across the country gather at ceremonies just like this one. We watch parades, listen to speakers, and take time to reflect on the sacrifices others have made for us. But Memorial Day is one day.

Our task should be to honor the fallen, not just on this day, but throughout the year. We must hold dear those freedoms so bravely fought for and be strong stewards of our democracy and founding principles so that their sacrifice is not in vain.

As Americans, we are afforded freedoms we sometimes take forgranted but are for many around the world, a mere hope, waiting to take hold: freedom of speech, freedom to follow our own spiritual path, freedom to determine our own destinies. The men and women of the military have fought on foreign soil so that we still enjoy those freedoms

here at home. In return for their sacrifice and for these basic freedoms, we have the responsibility to continue the work that was started by our founding fathers so many years ago to “form a more perfect union.” We honor the service men and women we have lost, when we strive to better that union in our everyday lives. When we serve our communities. When we put ourselves in our neighbors’ shoes, take the time to understand and help them with the obstacles they might be facing. When we perform our civic duties. And when we come together to focus on our common goals for the common good – when we focus on what brings us together rather than what drives us apart. These values are what keep our communities and our country strong. These values are worth fighting for. So let us continue to personify the values we know strengthen our great nation. And let us never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by our brave men and women of our military when we go about our lives, every day, here in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We owe so much to them.

 

Senator Donnelly represents the Fourth Middlesex District in the Massachusetts State Senate. He currently serves as Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. If you would like to contact Senator Donnelly or his staff, they can be reached at their State House office by calling 617-722-1432.

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Lexington Veterans Speak

Members of LVA board include Bill Stern, Pat Flynn, Bill Johansen, Phil Schaefer, Alan Clou, and Warren Winslow. Not present were Bob Edwards, Adam Forstall (LHS student webmaster) Bill Kennedy, Matthew Pica, Charlie Shock, and Tim Whitson.


By E. Ashley Rooney with Photos by Peter Lund  |  As most of us know, the first shot of the American War for Independence was fired on the Lexington Green. Years later in 1971, 450 anti-war protesters occupied the historic Lexington Green and refused to leave. Early Sunday morning, they were all arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $5.00 each, and continued their march to Boston. No wonder Lexington figures in the history books.

One sunny April morning, I sat with a group of board members from the Lexington Veterans Association (LVA) and listened to battle-tested Pat Flynn, who served in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam and received 7 Purple Hearts. He laughed as he said his friend told him, “You finally learned to duck!”  Most of the others in the room had served in the Armed Forces during Korea, the Cold War, and Viet Nam.

The sun didn’t seem to be so bright when Pat, an avid skier, told us what it was like as a 18-year-old to land in North Africa (when he had been promised a mountaineering unit) during World War II. From there, he went to southern France and then to Italy, where he helped to liberate Italy in the battle at Monte Cassino. “It was cold when I climbed those hills.  A man asked me what I wanted and I said coffee.  That was the first time I had coffee without cream and sugar.  We got hit badly, and I couldn’t walk. I came down on a mule and was shipped to a hospital.”

Sometimes I wonder if that patriotism still exists today. People sit through the Pledge of Allegiance. We don’t salute the flag as often. Few people turn out on the Lexington Green when our soldiers come home or for our Memorial Day salute.  Several years ago, Governor Romney greeted the 181st infantry regiment returning from New Orleans after the Katrina floods. Present only were the governor, his aides, a few parents, and the exhausted soldiers.

 

Pat Flynn, who has served as the town's Veteran's Agent, said, "We have over 1,000 vets in town. Sometimes they are in dire need of help."

Warren Winslow said ,"As a US history teacher, I joined this group because I am passionate about keeping these stories alive for present and future generations."

Phil Schaffer, a 45-year resident of Lexington, who had 6 months active duty in the Army in 1957 and served several more years in the National Guard, remarked, "Many people come to our meetings- not just veterans. We even get historians."

Bill Johansen said, "The library is a wonderful place for us to meet. And to hear these oral histories."

 

When my son (LHS 86) enlisted, at least two friends told me he was making a foolish mistake. I wasn’t wild about it either, but I was proud that he wanted to support his country. His foster brother followed him and learned how to live with structure. As LVA board member, Alan Glou, says, “The military experience gives structure.  It gives you a different perspective. You learn how to share responsibility and how to rely on others.”

Listening to Pat’s reminiscences, I realized how rare it is hear our service men and women discuss their stories. Yet those very stories of sacrifice are part of our history. Putting aside the question of whether the war was or is right or wrong, our military men and women and their families are making monumental sacrifices to ensure that our country remains free.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have paid the ultimate price for us as well as those who are fortunate enough to return.

Bill Johansen, chairman of the group, says, “The Air Force straightened my life out. It got me to college and gave me my career. Alan Glou added, “When you are in the service, you realize this country is a beautiful place.”

Lexington has a thriving Lexington Veterans Association, which meets monthly at the Cary Memorial Library and is open to the public. During our discussion, LVA board member Bill Stern said, “You can’t live in Lexington without strong patriotic feelings and a love for America. A few of us got interested about having a group to share our experiences.”

The group(lexingtonveteransassociation.com/) grew from informal meetings at the Senior Center where veterans discussed their experiences in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, and Viet Nam. As the group expanded, it needed a place to meet and began meeting at Cary Memorial Library on a monthly basis with speakers on a variety of topics. The meetings are taped, and DVDs are available at the library. Starbucks in Lexington Center generously provides coffee.

Recent  programs include “Afghanistan 2008-2009: A Deployment with the Currahees,” “Voyage to the Moon: Apollo, the Great Adventure,” “USMC Helicopter Operations in Vietnam, 1967-1968,” and  “World War I: The Final Year of Conflict and the Devastating Impact of the Great War on the European Civilization”

Another board member and retired Lexington US history and social studies teacher, Warren Winslow stated, “The group is important because the story needs to be kept alive. It provides an excellent opportunity to hear and learn from superb speakers who recount their stories of military topics and personal experiences.”

Warren Winslow said when his father spoke about his tour of duty in the Aleutians, he met three people who had also served there plus a former high school friend.”  Bill Johansen commented, “The best thing in our world is a chance to learn about what is real and what’s going on in the world.  People want to tell their story in a nonpolitical way, and all are welcome to hear it.

Please join us for this Program, as all are welcome. Coffee is generously provided by Starbucks (Lexington Center, Scott LeBlanc, Manager). When you patronize this Starbucks coffee shop, please thank them for their long-time, continuing support of the Lexington Veterans’ Association. Also, special thanks to those attendees who bake or bring cookies/cake to our programs: this is greatly appreciated.

Pat Flynn, who has served as the town’s Veteran’s Agent, said, “We have over 1,000 vets in town. Sometimes they are in dire need of help.”

Bob Edwards

Alan Glou

Pat Flynn

Bill Johansen

Bill Kennedy

Matthew Pica

Charlie Schock

Phil Schaffer

Bill Stern

Tim Whitson

Warren Winslow

 

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Final Curtain-Steve Bogart to leave Lexington High School

Steve Bogart

By Laurie Atwater  |  “It’s something that I have been thinking about for awhile,” Steve Bogart says as he sits comfortably in the office outside the celebrated “black box” classroom. Students gather in the other room for an afternoon meeting of the drama club as the anthem “we will rock you,” blasts from a boom box. Bogart gets up and quietly closes the door so we can talk.

Events converged in Bogart’s life this year that compelled him to stop and take stock. His dear friend suddenly received a dire diagnosis, teaching in Lexington hasn’t been as much fun as it used to be and as he approaches sixty, Bogart still has so many things he wants to accomplish.

So, Bogart has made the difficult decision to leave Lexington High School and the theater program he has guided to acclaim over the past 20 plus years. But he doesn’t leave easily.

“The big thing is my friend died last week,” he says quietly. “He retired at 61 and he planned to write a book about theater education and then he got sick.”

It was a wake-up call. “I’m 57 and I’m making a major leap of faith to do this,” he says. “I’m not done artistically at all and I feel that my ideas and my confidence, and my approach are so much clearer now.”

Finding His Passion

It’s an approach that has been developing since the early 80s.  He was a student teacher in art education, when he was asked to design a set for a summer musical theater production. “It was a paying job,” he laughs, “So I did it for the summer and I loved it.” Bogart worked with a friend of his and they both decided that they wanted to come back the next summer to work with the kids.

“But we both thought something was missing from the experience,” he says. “We didn’t want to do any musical; we wanted to write something original with the kids. But we had NO IDEA how to do it,” he says laughing.

Browsing in a bookstore in Harvard Square that winter, Bogart stumbled upon a book by Viola Spolin called, Improvisation for the Theater. “It was filled with all of these exercises that built on each other,” he says. For this art student it was a revelation. “It was all about improvising and creating stories…that’s what we wanted to do.”

Bogart took this method to the theater program the next summer. “It was HUGE” he says. For him it was a revelatory moment. “We ended up writing 10 short pieces with the kids with music.” One of the performances was attended by the head of a private school in Boston who offered Bogart a job teaching drama. “After a few years there, I thought ‘maybe I should go back to school and study theater!’” He lets out a huge laugh. Studying after doing was “really kind of wonderful,” he says. He found his passion at Emerson studying for a Master’s Degree in theater and he has never looked back. From there he began to refine his practice based on what he calls “the authentic voice.”

“I’ve never stopped believing, and it’s gotten even stronger over the years in terms of my teaching, that there is nothing more powerful than the authentic voice of kids. Giving them the chance, and helping them create material that comes from them—that’s why I have created this whole process of creating original material with kids.”

Creating Original Material

The “process” is a powerhouse program that evolves from a dynamic mix of collaboration, trust-building, idea generation and problem-solving. Through the process of crafting theater Bogart has also found a way to engage all the skills needed to create exceptional thinkers and problem solvers.

Jeff Leonard, newly appointed Coordinator of Performing Arts in Lexington, talks about Bogart with unmasked admiration. “I was teaching at LHS when Steve first arrived and several of my students were performing in his first show, Alice. They said it was ‘like nothing they had ever done,’ so I went to see it and I was blown away by the cast and by the art form,” he explains.

Leonard, who will be involved in choosing Bogart’s successor, is truly dedicated to seeing the legacy LHS theater program upheld. “What Steve has created is a process of learning that helps students develop the skills that enable you to create,” he says. Much like the advanced jazz that Leonard teaches at the high school, he feels that Bogart’s approach embodies the philosophy of Fine and Performing Arts at the high school. “He does not compromise when it comes to the art. He pushes the envelope and he has been embraced in Lexington.” Leonard laughs when he recalls Superintendent Phil Geiger’s standing ovation at the opening of Alice. “Phil Geiger came to every performance; there was such support.”

Throughout the years Lexington’s program has developed a reputation for fearlessness—for seeking and embracing the avant-garde. Leonard says that Bogart has a gift for helping students “connect the learning with their own lives—the good, the bad, the funny and the sad. That’s what drama is and that’s what Steve does.”

The Steve Bogart Experience

Amanda Palmer, LHS Alumna. Courtesy photo.

One of Bogart’s biggest admirers is former student and Dresden Dolls vocalist Amanda Palmer. Last year she returned to Lexington to work with Bogart and LHS students on an original work that they titled The Needle That Sings in Her Heart.

Palmer who is known for her edgy cabaret style, risk-taking performances and intelligent lyrics says she was actually a bit of a loner in high school. We talked by phone a few days ago and it is clear that she remains emotionally connected to Lexington High School and the drama program. To this day she says Steve Bogart’s drama program was one of her biggest creative influences. “Teenagers are extremely self-conscious and really insecure, and they are used to a certain level of judgment from adults,” Palmer says. “Bogart was a miracle because he really listens and he built this platform for expressing what kids have to say—and that’s a sensitive platform to build because lots of what they have to say is really complicated.”

Within all that freedom Palmer explains, was a rigorous process that involved tapping into the creativity of each participant and engaging the entire group in the complicated and disciplined practice of developing a storyline and script. “I think one of the most artistically formative experiences I had as a teenager was creating these plays from scratch—the process of improvisation, how to shape a good idea and throw away a bad idea and how to listen to your collaborators.” She calls it “The Steve Bogart Experience.”

Bogart has evolved this process over the years and always begins with what he calls a “starting point.” The starting pint can be anything—a visual or a piece of music. One year he used the surrealist paintings of Joan Miró. “They [the students] created these wonderful improvisations trying to create movement and texture that did not exist in the natural world, but lived within the rules of the painting. It was so much fun.”

It all seems fun to Bogart and his enthusiasm is infectious. Jeff Leonard says that people think Bogart is serious and dark because the plays often have a serious theme, but “he is so open and up and funny.” Leonard has been his collaborator on musicals over the years. He has directed the pit orchestra on the larger productions and watched the rehearsal process as the production takes shape. “Steve doesn’t care about the perfection of the final project,” Leonard reflects. “He pushes for authenticity. He wants the actors to find their own voice—to create and to grow.”

Taking Ownership

Bogart with Palmer developing "Needle"

During the development phase of the project, students create characters, themes and ideas on easel pads. The initial brainstorming sessions are free flowing; there is no right or wrong. From there small groups develop scenes, ideas are accepted and rejected and the script takes shape. “Everyone is buying into the process and working together,” Bogart says. He encourages the students to engage their emotions, to get in touch with their feelings and think out of the box. “The stuff that makes art interesting is the moment when a human being takes a risk,” Palmer says.

Bogart expresses such joy when he reflects on this phase of production. “The kids develop a sense of ownership of the material,” he explains. “You see this piece taking shape and you think, ‘we created this!’ I think it gives kids some faith in their own imaginations.”
Boosting that sense of confidence in their own voices is important. “The biggest thing that Steven Bogart did for me at high school was treating me as an artist,” Palmer comments. “He wasn’t patronizing; he didn’t treat me like a kid.”

The Everyday Joys of Teaching

Surrended by cast members and huge sheets of white papers to record ideas, the cast of Needle" collaborates on the script.

Bogart loves this world he has created in Lexington and his dedication is perhaps most evident when he talks about his classes and the everyday joys of teaching.

“Things happen in class that nobody knows about. Just today,” he says excitedly, “a student who has been kind of detached all semester just exploded. Something shifted this past week and today he was on his feet and jumping and doing everything and leading…these things take time and suddenly you see the light go on. Those little moments are always wonderful…when someone does something that completely changes the air in the room—they went somewhere really difficult and they felt safe doing it in front of everyone.”

As he gets ready to leave Lexington and pursue opportunities elsewhere, Bogart is just where you’d expect him to be—out there on that tightrope, refusing to compromise his creative vision, taking a risk and pushing towards the next great thing. Whether it’s the teaching gig he’s lined up for the fall at Southern New Hampshire University, a possible project with Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman or another collaboration with Palmer herself, you can bet he’ll throw himself in to it with all of the dedication and heart he’s given to Lexington students over the years.

Bogart is hoping to have more time for his painting. Above, "Search for Innocence"

This July he’s headed off to the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where he was accepted into a ten day intensive playwriting program. Then he has a painting exhibition scheduled in Virginia for the fall. For Bogart this is a bittersweet new beginning. He has been bolstered by the great outpouring of support from the community. “It’s hard to leave, but I want to write and create,” he says.

Palmer comments, “I’m sad for the kids who are going to miss out on the experience, but I’m over the moon that he’s going to pursue his art.”

The LHS Drama Program Received many Accolates under Bogart:

Awards were received for original pieces written by students with Bogart:

LHS' 2011 original drama, "Lily's Room"

1991  “Dusted”  won the Bravo National Play competition

1993  “Lot 4b”  state finalist

1996  “Tryptic”  state finalist

1998  “Kindred”  winner  state drama competition

1999 “Blue Lips and Fingertips”  winner state competition

2000 “Myth” winner state competition

2001 “Winter’s Fruit”  alternate winner state competition

2002 028486443″  state finalist

2003 “Accidents of Light” state winner

2004 “The Toilet Operas” state winner

In 2004 Invited to represent Massachusetts in the American High School Theater Festival, Edinburgh Scotland.

Bogart is known for his visually stunning productions.

Other memorable shows:

  • Sir Gawain and The Green Night
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Hamlet
  • The Tempest
  • King Lear
  • The Abduction and Transformation of Glowing All White Girl
  • White Lies
  • Faust
  • With the Needle that Sings in Her Heart
  • Lily’s Room

Musicals at LHS:

  • Drood
  • Anything Goes
  • Carousel
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Nine
  • Hair
  • West Side Story
  • Animal Crackers
  • Sweeney Todd
  • Les Miserable
  • Evita
  • Into the Woods
  • Rags
  • My Favorite Year
  • Cabaret
  • City of Angels
  • The Good Woman of Setzuan
  • The Producers
  • Seussical
  • Assassins
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Community Building at Community Nursery School

Left to right: Karen Griffiths, Jenny Anderson, Jim Caouette, Joanne Pressman and Mary-Gayle Sweeney of the Building Committee with John O'Donnell (center), President of Patriot Community Bank. Patriot financed the construction of the new building.

By Heather Aveson  |  When is a building more than just a building? When the look, space and feel reflect not only the needs of its inhabitants but their values and sense of community as well. That is what the new Community Nursery School building at 2325 Massachusetts Ave is all about.

The structure made its public debut during the Yellow Balloon Fair on June 4th and received rave reviews. Nine year-old Sam Andrews spent a year in the ‘far room’ of the old CNC building. “I think it’s improved. It looks more modern. The other building was old and made out of wood. The other one was tiny.” Sam’s impressions are just what architect Mike Waters likes to hear. Mike is the parent of two CNC alumni, Christopher and Tobin who both attended the school in the mid-90s. He was apprehensive about how the design would be greeted by the school community. “I’m continually surprised by how much people like it. People took to the initial sketches right away.”

His trepidation came mainly from the unconventional materials chosen. The structure is built of pre-engineered steel, which was far less expensive than traditional wood construction. These materials actually work better with their goals than the residential looking wooden designs they had first considered.

“The kids did incredible drawings of what they wanted to see. The building needed to be more about the kids than the adults. It had more to do with kids having fun and making the shapes recognizable. With the steel you can see the component parts,” explains Mike.

Longtime Director Joanne Pressman studied the Reggio Emilia early childhood programs developed in Italy shortly after WWII. She brought much of what she learned to CNC, including an emphasis on learning environment. “Children deserve to be in a space that is engaging and inspiring. We called ourselves a community school but there was no place to celebrate community.”

Mike Waters shared her concerns agreeing that there was no public space and adding that the shotgun style of the old school meant having to go through one classroom to reach another. The new building solves both problems, and many others.

The school community knew their aging wooden structure was in need of more and bigger repairs. Mike Waters remembers when he first came to CNC as a parent, “I was invited nicely by Joanne to join the building committee. Somehow I was volunteered as a handy person. I became very familiar with the building.” Joanne Pressman had a way of nicely inviting members to join the committee. Jim Caouette, a parent of five knows. “I’ve been on the building committee since my first daughter, Andrea, started at CNC fifteen years ago. I’ve replaced boilers, fixed the driveway. I can’t say enough about the community of people. We pull together for our members.”

But the old structure’s maintenance demands were getting away from them. Current Director Liz O’Neil says, “Three years ago board members really focused on the big picture, we were looking at a leaking roof, etc. Parents had always helped, but we were beyond that now.” The board voted to rebuild in 2009 and began a capital campaign in January of 2010. Again the community pulled together, this time in support of a new school building. Liz adds, “more than fifty percent of people contacted responded. People gave whatever they could give. We received 2/3’s of what we needed within the first three months.”

Patriot Community Bank has provided the financing for the project. Says building committee member Trisha Kennealy, “We couldn’t have done it without them!”

In September, teachers, parents and students, new and returning, will start the school year in this wonderfully kid friendly building. Jim Caouette is as excited as anyone, “The new building is tremendous, it’s exactly what we had in mind. Now we’ve got a building that fits our needs.”

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Finding a Balance at Meadow Mist Farm

Above: A chicken tractor is a portable chicken coop. Grass-fed chickens are still available throughout the U.S. from family farms. Their meat is much healthier and tastier than industrial chicken which is fed a diet high in unhealthy omega 6 grains and often treated with antibiotics, steroids and hormones.

By Heather Aveson  |  Twenty-four years ago, John Moriarty was just looking for a little bit bigger garden. What he found was a hidden gem and the mantle of reluctant folk hero.

In 1987, John was living in Arlington running his wordworking and construction business and taking care of his backyard garden. It was something he had done since childhood, working with his dad in the family plot. But John wanted to expand his little 500 square foot garden and he mentioned to his real estate broker that he’d like a property with more room to grow. When he got the call that she’d found, as John says, “something she thought would work for him,” John bumped up and down the ruts of Bacon Street and landed on the 5.5 acres of the old Meeks farm. It was love at first sight. “I looked around and got totally fascinated. It was more than I ever expected. All I could see around me was farm and field.” John says looking across those same fields with the same kind of wonder he must have felt that first day.

The land is part of a swath of old Lexington farmland that runs from Marrett Road to Waltham Street. The land between Meadow Mist and Marrett Road is still being cultivated and the area behind the farm is now conservation land that stretches to Clarke Middle School. John did some research and found that his “Meadow Mist Farm” had been owned and operated for nearly 80 years by the Meek family. Originally a dairy farm, the family switched over to growing produce in 1930’s. Much of his history also comes from family members who continue to stop by. “Ever since I’ve been here members of the Meek family have dropped in and told me how wonderful it was growing up here or visiting family here.”

John moved into the old farmhouse and starting getting a handle on how to work his much expanded garden plot. “I got my first animals in late 1988. First I got a pig and eventually I got hens. Fundamentally, I learned by making a lot of mistakes.” John started out growing a good amount of corn, but it takes up a lot of space and you only harvest once a season. He still grows some corn, but has learned that succession crops like lettuces, greens and herbs give a much better return. And the pigs have given way to laying hens, chickens, lamb, and beef cows.

Meadow Mist didn’t start out to be a commercial farm, but John found he had way more than he could use so he reached out to friends and asked, “Would you like to buy some hamburger?” From there he started selling fresh eggs, chicken, beef, produce and strawberries on a limited, but growing, basis.

“When I came out here no one was interested in farms,” says John. He sees the recent push for local produce and local farming as a teaching opportunity. “Part of having this is to have people learn what really happens on a farm. It’s life and death. One thing balances another. It all has to be in balance.” This commitment to balanced farming will sound familiar to people who have read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Sheep Grazing at Meadow Mist Farm

Meadow Mist Farm has been using many of the techniques noted in the “Pastoral Grass” section of the book. Joel Salatin’s ‘Polyface Farm’ in Virginia is most people’s first introduction to integrated farming. But, Moriarty says, it’s a technique he’s been using for years. The idea is pretty simple. John puts it this way, “You can use animals to restore the land, put a lot of animals in a small area for a short amount of time. That’s the way animals do it nature.” By regularly moving the animals no one area is over grazed and dies. At the same time the grazing and animal manure left behind nourishes the grasses and helps them regenerate, building them up for the next grazing rotation.

At Meadow Mist this technique is used for both the beef animals and the chickens. Squares of pasture are roped off and the cows graze for a short period in one square until moved to the next. The same can be done with chickens.

John Moriarty and his partner Lauren Yaffee

And this is where Moriarty is facing a new challenge on the farm. Right now, he has one ‘chicken tractor’ in which about 30 chickens are pecking at the grass. A ‘chicken tractor’ is a 10ft by 12ft movable pen with open sides, a covered top and no bottom. Once or twice a day the pen is dragged to a new plot of grass. The chicken manure left behind is rich in nitrogen and helps the grass regenerate. It is a perfect example of integrated farming. The pastures at Meadow Mist could support at least 2 -3 more chicken tractors and John is anxious to expand that part of his operation.

In order to add more chicken tractors he will have to use existing pastures which fall within a wetlands buffer zone.

Before making a substantial financial investment, and in the spirit of compliance, Meadow Mist Farm has gone before the Conservation Commission seeking a ‘negative determination’ which would officially exempt the land from Conservation Commission jurisdiction. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Mgl310-04 is the Massachusetts statute that governs wetland buffer zones used in commercial agriculture. If the land is found to fall under this statute, it is exempt from local conservation commission oversight. Both the conservation commission and the farm owners are working with legal counsel to understand the technicalities of Massachusetts agricultural law as it pertains to Meadow Mist. The farm has many supporters and the complicated legal issue has everyone feeling the pressure. At the Conservation Commission’s May 24 meeting, commission member Stu Kennedy acknowledged the situation. “I’m really in favor of this kind of activity if it is in the proper exemption. We have to get to the kernel…Is the exemption in place properly?”

Meadow Mist may find out the answer when they meet with the Conservation Commission at its June 21st meeting. But, the commission’s answer is just one step in the expansion process. “Even if this goes through there are still a lot of approvals to get,” and Moriarty is concerned about the message being sent to small farmers, “These operations are so marginal, if you make it too hard, you’re going to push a lot of these people out.”

But Moriarty and his partner Lauren Yaffee seem committed to staying put. They are building a new farm house, which will make room for more growing fields, and John has just planted rows of tender young blueberry bushes that won’t be ready to harvest for another three years. So Meadow Mist farm is here to stay.

If you’d like to purchase from Meadow Mist Farm or visit the operation it’s always a good idea to call ahead to check availability. You can reach them at 781-354-5037 or www.meadow-mist.com.

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Lexington Woman’s Hidden Life Revealed

Author, Mary Keenan

By Judy Buswick |  “Keep your focus.” That’s what retired Lexington teacher Mary Keenan told herself. Like other researchers who rely on original source material to write new accounts of the past, she encountered tantalizing, curiosity-tickling tidbits that might have lead her away from her intended target. She had plenty of material to draw on for her new book, including 158 letters from the Lexington Historical Society’s collection of Robbins-Stone Papers. “In Haste, Julia” (Puritan Press, 2011) took Ms. Keenan almost twelve years to write and pulled her into the daily interactions and social upheavals of the nineteenth century. A Belmont resident with an AB in History and a M.Ed. from Tufts University, Keenan came to Lexington to teach English and History at the William Diamond Junior High in 1964; and in 1972 she went to the new Jonas Clark Junior High to teach history. As these schools became “Middle” schools in 1986, Keenan moved into Lexington High School where she helped develop the history curriculum and taught until her retirement in 1999.

She dedicated her book “to the hundreds of Lexington students who learned that both men and women are significant in American History.” As a history teacher in a town where local history is national history, Keenan realized early on that she should join the Lexington Historical Society. She found rich material about the men involved in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, as she worked with her students; but at one point she asked, “Where are the women?” Her quest for the answer led her to introduce a Women’s History Course at the high school and eventually set her on another course – that of book author. A quote from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot showed Keenan that to study women’s history she had to seek hidden lives lived faithfully. Eliot had written, “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Ruth Morey, the first woman president of the Historical Society, and S. Lawrence Whipple, an archivist treating Lexington history as if it were his own family history, had suggestions for women that Keenan might research. They brought out large boxes of Robbins-Stone family documents – “journals, ledgers, letters, wills and deeds, [and] memorabilia.” Ellen Stone was the first woman on the Lexington School Committee and might have been a subject, but she just didn’t strike Keenan as the one for her. Then she found the small diary written between October 1850 and November 1851 by the aunt of Ellen Stone. This undersized window into the life of Julia Robbins (1819-1900) convinced Keenan that she had found her subject. A maiden lady for many years taking care of her parents and sisters, Julia Robbins was interested in the political and theological issues of her day. Some of the people she knew included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, the abolitionists Sarah and Parker Pillsbury, and Rev. Theodore Parker, another abolitionist.

Julia’s father Eli Robbins was a successful businessman and “a strong believer in freedom of speech and thought.” He built an elegant Grecian style hall in East Lexington for public speakers to share their views, and Julia was regularly in attendance. She had an Academy education in Derry, New Hampshire, and attended the School of Design for women in Boston, with the latter leading her to a career as a carpet designer for the Lowell Company in Lowell, Massachusetts. She intended to make herself self-sufficient. \When on May 17, 1860, she married John Barrett (1826 – 1890) of Concord, she continued her anti-slavery interests, followed the States’ rights controversy over slavery, and advocated for municipal suffrage for women, even as she took on duties as a farmer’s wife. The story of this independent-minded woman thus includes both Concord and Lexington social history, commentary on city and country living in the nineteenth century, and how one socially-aware woman followed her conscience and made a contribution to the liberties our nation enjoys today. Keenan faced the problem, as do all writers, of finding the best means to convey her research in a manner that would engage readers. Should she fictionalize her memoir with quotations she could never know her characters actually spoke? How much could she infer from the letters about emotions and family dynamics? She opted to exclude dialogue and to provide “thoughts and feelings of individuals … inferred from the factual evidence found in the primary sources and in the historical record.” Her extensive endnotes categorized by topics provide readers with her source material. Keenan found that the nineteenth century newspapers “had incredible, detailed stories” and she was able to read some original copies at the Boston Public Library. The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University had copies of the “The Woman’s Journal,” the weekly women’s suffrage newspaper to which Julia subscribed. The Boston Athenaeum allowed her to use the “Boston Almanacs” from the day; and so if she said there was heavy snow, then there really was. She read Lowell Company business documents at Harvard’s Baker Library. The papers of Parker Pillsbury are in the Wardman Library of Whittier College in California and librarians there searched for Julia’s letters written to Pillsbury and his wife. The New Hampshire Historical Society and several Massachusetts public libraries provided valuable source material; but Julia’s small diary from 1850-51 had two key components that Keenan used heavily. The seventeenth American Anti-Slavery Bazaar was held in Boston in December of 1850 and Julia spent several days working at it. She records who gave speeches, how Daniel Webster had abandoned the abolitionists by signing the Compromise of 1850, how the hall was decorated, and that the event was the social highlight of the season. Julia worked at the glassware table selling genuine Bohemian Glass and Britannia ware and raised $110. Other items sent from Ireland, England, Germany and France were also for sale. Autographs of Sir Walter Scott “sold for $5 each — a princely sum …when coffee was 12 cents a pound and molasses 27 cents a gallon.”

The other key information included in the diary was about Julia’s School of Design classes in 1851. Miss Ednah Littlehale intended her Boston school “to widen women’s opportunity for paying work,” and independent Julia aspired to do just that. From this training, Julia lived and worked for five years in the city of Lowell, earning her way and spending her money as she pleased. Mary Keenan knew that nineteenth century women did not just stay at home and care for children. They followed political interests like abolition and women’s suffrage and so Julia Robbins Barrett “was not alone in her beliefs.” She and others followed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s encouragement to “Build, therefore, your own world.” In so doing, Julia helped build ours. “In Haste, Julia” is available ($19.95) from the Lexington Historical Society, PO Box 514, Lexington, MA 02420. Or contact them at www.lexingtonhistory.org. Judy Buswick writes frequently for Colonial Times and is writing a book about Sally Palmer Field who championed quilting in New England. Contact Judy at jt.buswick@verizon.net.

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November/December 2014

November/December 2014 Colonial Times Magazine

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