Archives for March 2013

Undiscovered Lexington ~ Group Links Conservation Lands for the Community to Enjoy!

These are just a couple of the beautiful spots to explore in Lexington. Just wait for the spring and check out the Citizens of Lexington Conservation Walks here:


Click on the image of the map below to link to a PDF of the Pilot Route.

Pilot Route













Members of the Greenways Corridor Committee. Front row- Alex Dohan, Eileen Entin, Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart. Back row- Peggy Enders, Paul Knight, Mike Tabaczynski, Bob Hausselein, Stew Kennedy. Photo by David Tabeling.


By Laurie Atwater


I grew up with woods behind my house and I knew every inch of it! I spent all day having adventures in those woods—walking, reading, exploring, catching frogs and building forts. It held endless fascination for me right through the sixth grade when we moved across town and got new woods and a walking path thanks to the Rails to Trails program. I can’t imagine my life without that experience in nature.

Today I long for the piney woods, the smells of the meadow, the rich soil of my grandfather’s garden and the wind off the lake more than anything. The other day I took my coffee to Minuteman National Park and began a difficult tipsy walk along the crusty snow to the Hartwell Tavern and left to the rock wall bordering the pasture where I sat down for some quiet. One lady laughed asking me if I was out for a walk or a coffee break! I told her it was a therapeutic experience—I needed a dose of nature.

I recently sat with Rick Abrams and Keith Ohmart of the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee to discuss their new project ACROSS (Accessing Conservation Land, Recreation Areas Open Spaces, Schools and Streets) Lexington. “You know,” Abrams says, “not many kids these days have the opportunity to get lost in nature.” But in Lexington, thanks to the efforts of Rick and the other members of the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee, Lexingtonians will get to know the many natural resources around town and be able to get out into nature—adults and children alike—with more ease.

Rick mentions several studies conducted at the University of Michigan by professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan which show that walking in nature, living close to nature and viewing pictures of nature had positive benefits among diverse populations. The couple has theorized that modern life is full of “sustained attention” which is exhausting. Being in nature allows attention to wander and be captured by images of beauty and gives the brain time to recover. It’s called Attention Restoration Therapy (ART) and it occurs only in nature. A walk in the city does not have the same effect.

a71ce03ae7a0be49f07db110.L Recent books by Richard Louv, The Nature Principal and his previous book The Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder , describe the effect of our plugged-in lifestyle on our “denatured” children. Today’s kids don’t often have the experience that I had growing up, or that early residents of Lexington had before open space gave way to big houses. This lack of nature in our lives—this “nature deprivation deficit” as author Richard Louv calls it, may be just as damaging to our children as Attention Deficit Disorder.

Research at the University of Rochester in 2010 by investigators Netta Weinstein, Andrew Przybylski, and Richard Ryan revealed that time in nature not only recharges our imagination and relaxes our bodies, but it reorients our values. In an article in Scientific American , entitled The Moral Call of the Wild , social psychologist Wesley Shultz discusses this research in conjunction with changing American values and concludes that our ever-increasing distance from nature “could drive large-scale shifts in societal values.” Beyond its mood elevating effects, it seems that nature might also increase our desire to connect with our communities and decrease externalized values like the desire for fame or wealth. “As their results show, Shultz writes, “experiences with strictly built environments lead to life aspirations that are more self-focused.”


This story has two real heroes: the Lexington Conservation Committee and the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee. One Committee is relatively new and the other has been working since 1963 when according to the Town website “Town Meeting voted to accept the Conservation Act (M.G.L. Chapter 40 51 and s. 8c), which had been passed by the Massachusetts legislature to promote and protect open space in the Commonwealth. The Commission’s responsibilities were expanded to include administration and enforcement of wetlands protection when the Wetlands Protection Act (M.G.L. 131 Section 40) was created.”

This move corresponded with the boom in the development of inner ring suburbs between 1950 and 1960 (fueled by the highway system) and the rapid development of open space that accompanied the expansion into formerly rural cities and towns.

In 1951 Lexington became connected to Route 128 and the population began to swell. Lexington was a farming community rife with fields, meadows, woods and waterways that remained untouched until this rapid flight from the inner cities to the suburbs by a middle class yearning for yards and gardens.

According to Dick Kollen in his great book Lexington- from Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb:  “While Lexingtonians applauded the benefits of Route 128’s construction…town leaders grew wary that excessive population growth would transform the town’s landscape and character.” (Page 145)

Indeed, the movement began in Lexington to acquire and protect Lexington’s open space for the generations to come and we are all the beneficiaries of this forward-thinking effort that continues today.  As large parcels of family farmland come up for sale, the town of Lexington has been there to preserve parts of it for future Lexingtonians to enjoy.  This preservation of  land will protect Lexington from the over-developed appearance of many of its neighbors.


“Sit here for a while on the stone wall (ever mindful of the poison ivy), and let your gaze and your thughts wander to the Chiesa barn in the far distance. Such peace and solitude on a warm afternoon or evening is a therapeutic interlude and a refreshing restorative … If you tell me that you have better things to do than sit on a lichen-covered stone wall at the edge of a hay field, watching the timothy rippling in the wind, I shall reply that materialism has overtaken and subdued you. Our children’s children shall be poorer without these peaceful acres to enjoy.”
-S. Lawrence Whipple. “Peaceful Acres’ Preservation Urged,” The Lexington Minuteman, May 25, 1985. Excerpted from Lexington Through the Years, S. Lawrence Whipple, Edited by S. Levi Doran.



Fast forward to today and the next step in this continuum has been undertaken—the committee seeks to increase Lexingtonians’ awareness of these great open spaces and to promote its use for passive recreation and alternate transportation around town. Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart and Eileen Entin comprise the ACROSS Lexington Task Force of the Greenways Corridor Committee (GCC). They have been charged by the Selectmen with the responsibility to identify existing pathways through conservation land and existing streets in town and to link them into coherent routes for pedestrians or bikers.

“We really have two goals,” Abrams says, “to get people walking in nature and to see this as an alternative form of transportation around town.”

Ohmart points out, “One of the key parts of this is that we are using existing infrastructure—either sidewalks or streets or trails that are already there in our conservation land. There’s very little in the way of new trails that need to be constructed. We’re not out there blazing trails where there was nothing before.”

Initially the committee simply wanted to connect the green spaces in town—playing fields and open spaces like Great Meadow, but they soon expanded their vision. “We realized that there are connections in town from neighborhoods to the town center and to the schools that would encourage people to leave their cars behind,” Ohmart says.

Making Lexington more walkable is the ultimate goal. “If we can get more kids, parents and elders out of their cars, walking to school, walking to the town center—that will make the community more sustainable,” says Abrams.

The Pilot Route was completed on October 15th and is 5.5 miles in length. The route starts in the town center and takes a walker through 4 conservation areas—Lower Vinebrook, Willard’s Woods, Chiesa Farm, and Parker Meadow—ending up back on the Minuteman bikeway.

Since the Pilot Route was opened they have received positive feedback and they want to hear from more Lexingtonians. “We are a committee that wants feedback,” Abrams laughs. The more people that test out the route the more they hear.


The Board of Selectmen have established the Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Fund
to support the trail network by creating new directional and interpretive signage, electronic and/or print maps, and web/software development to incorporate current technologies. The mailing address for donations
(Write- Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund on the memo line of the check) is:
Board of Selectmen
ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund
Town of Lexington
1625 Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02420


In the end, the goal of the committee is to link forty miles of streets and open spaces to traverse the entire town in many directions and link us with our center, the schools and other points of interest in Lexington. The Greenway Corridor Committee is hoping to complete the additional work over the next three years.

“The town of Lexington found some money to purchase the signage and some poles,” according to Abrams. But, he stresses, the majority of the small markers are affixed to existing structures—a telephone pole or a tree—and few posts have had to be added. All of the work has been completed by volunteers from the Conservation Stewards and the Greenways Corridor Committee.


An initial group of about thirty enthusiastic walkers initiated inaugurated the route. They broke up in small groups to explore the 5.5 miles of Lexington. “It was amazing,” Abrams says. “All of these people were avid walkers, but they always walked the same old routes. There was constant surprise among the walkers—they never knew these spaces existed in Lexington!” Throughout the walk people were amazed at the amount of time they could go without seeing a house. What we’re doing is helping everyone in town figure it out for themselves following the signage.”

This is really the point of ACROSS Lexington. Many of the spaces are hidden from the street and marked only by a modest trailhead. It is very easy to travel through town and never know about the 1,300 plus acres of town-owned conservation land.



My adventure on Hathaway Road from left to right-the trailhead facing the street, the trail facing in, the ducks fishing for dinner!

Based on my conversation with Rick and Keith, I went looking for a trailhead on Hathaway Road (off Adams Street) and drove all the way to the end of that dead end street without finding it. As I was turning around, I stopped to ask a boy in his driveway playing if he knew where the trail was. He didn’t even know! Driving out I noticed an opening to my left and there it was—only a few houses from where the boy was playing!

I got out of the car and walked a short distance into the woods. Just a few feet into the woods I came upon a beautiful little stream complete with pairs of ducks fishing for dinner! What fun I had watching their “bottoms up” diving and paddling around! Rick says that just about every neighborhood in Lexington “has one or more of these areas of open space to explore.”

Next up—Chiesa Farm. I am ashamed to say that I have always loved driving by—and I used to love watching the horses—but I hadn’t even noticed that an opening had been established from the street and you can easily walk up over the hill toward the beautiful rock wall and the benches. On my way up the hill I meet Randy Kinard and David Parker with their dogs Parker (a Westie named for Captain John Parker) and Theo that David proudly called a mutt. Both men were used to walking the dogs in this spot and loved to let them go off leash for a little freedom and fun. When I tell them what I was up to, they were highly complementary of the new ACROSS Lexington markers. “You know you’re going to end up somewhere,” Randy says and both guys feel that the guidance will encourage more to venture forth without being afraid of getting lost!

Chiesa Farm is a busy place on a Saturday and soon I am chatting with Jim and his son Luke who were very familiar with the various open spaces around—Lower Vinebrook, Parker Meadow and of course, Chiesa Farm. Both were ruddy from a good walk. Luke went to Diamond Middle School and used to walk through the field on his way home from school. Then there was the goat lady who was out walking with her very small herd of 5 or 6 goats! I make my way through the second gate and am rewarded with a beautiful view of yet another pasture. A little bit of heaven right in Lexington. And, I recall that Larry Whipple wrote of this very spot—he loved it so much.

There are many beautiful places to explore in Lexington and now thanks to ACROSS Lexington you can venture out for a lovely walk that will invigorate and revitalize you, boost your creativity and land you right back in Lexington Center for a bite to eat, or a latte with friends.

Try it and then get in touch with any of the ACROSS Lexington folks—they’d love to hear from you!





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All Night Graduation Party!

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The Crafty Yankee

Stop in for all of the gifts on your list!

Click to see the full page Holiday Ad!

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Dance Around The World


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Dinosaurs, the Solar System, and Big, Cushy Chairs

As their children devour books about ancient creatures and the cosmos, Thomas and Amantha Tsaros make a legacy gift to Cary Memorial Library.

Tom and Amantha Tsaros are the newest members of the Maria Hastings Cary Legacy Society, which they joined when they made provisions for Cary Memorial Library in their wills.   Photo by Jeri Zeder.

Tom and Amantha Tsaros are the newest members of the Maria Hastings Cary Legacy Society, which they joined when they made provisions for Cary Memorial Library in their wills. Photo by Jeri Zeder.

By Jeri Zeder

A low winter sun beams through the kitchen window. Six-year-old Sophia kneels forward in her chair, arranging in neat rows across the table the cards from her dinosaur deck: Ankylosaurus, Triceratops, Velociraptor, on down to T. Rex. Through the doorway, displayed on the living room console table, is a bright ceramic snail sculpted by her brother Alex, age four. It shares top billing with an egg carton festooned to resemble a Stegosaurus.

It’s all evidence that Sophia and Alex can’t get enough of dinosaurs. And like so many parents of imaginative children, Thomas and Amantha Tsaros know exactly how to nourish their insatiable curiosity: with regular visits to Cary Memorial Library.

“Tom takes the children to the Library every Saturday,” says Amantha. “Our little boy—it wouldn’t be Saturday to him if he wasn’t at the Library.” And it’s not just the children. Tom says that using the Library to nurture his children’s interests in dinosaurs, the solar system, and whatever else catches their fancy has increased his own knowledge, too. Amantha remarks, “We’ve lived in Lexington for four-and-a-half years, and I’ve spent more time in the Library than any place else in Lexington.”

Cary Library is so important to the Tsaros’ that, when they updated their wills last year, they decided to designate the Library as a beneficiary. The Tsaros’ are the newest members of the Maria Hastings Cary Legacy Society, established by the Cary Memorial Library Foundation to honor those who make legacy gifts to the Library. “I know that our library is supported by the State and the Town, but I know that our library wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for individual, voluntary support, both in terms of time and treasure,” says Tom. “So, that’s why we decided to include the Library in our will.”

Alex Tsaros, age 4, and his creation, “Treasure Hunt.” He explains, “It’s a machine that can smell treasure under the sand.” Photo by Jeri Zeder .

Alex Tsaros, age 4, and his creation, “Treasure Hunt.” He explains, “It’s a machine that can smell treasure under the sand.” Photo by Jeri Zeder .

Sophia Tsaros, age 6, poses with her latest painting. “It’s my very first rose,” she says. Photo by Jeri Zeder.

Sophia Tsaros, age 6, poses with her latest painting. “It’s my very first rose,” she says. Photo by Jeri Zeder.


Tom, 48, grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, graduated from UMass Lowell, and entered the then-emerging field of energy conservation in the late 1980s. He’s now a business development director with Framingham-based Ameresco, an energy efficiency and renewable energy company, where he develops small power plants. His primary customers are non-profits, municipalities, public housing, and institutions such as Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and the Museum of Science. By helping customers save on energy costs, his company makes it possible for them to invest their savings in better energy equipment. “It’s a successful business model that benefits society while making a profit,” Tom says.

Amantha, 44, grew up in nearby Burlington, studied art and painting in New York City, and became in illustrator. Her work appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire magazine, and other prestigious publications. Yet it wasn’t as satisfying as she had hoped it would be. After taking some career detours and returning to the Boston area, Amantha met Tom through a mutual friend at the Boston Sports Club in Lexington—on May 1, 2001, to be exact. A little more than a year later, they were married.

Rose Petal Sorbet, 8x8”, Acrylic on Panel, C 2012, Amantha Tsaros

Rose Petal Sorbet, 8×8”, Acrylic on Panel, C 2012, Amantha Tsaros

Drawn to the convenient location and good schools, the couple settled down in Lexington. Amantha rekindled her love affair with painting when she started doing art projects with her daughter Sophia. She paints regularly now in her home studio. “I get up before the children to paint when it’s still dark out,” she says. She’s been showing her work, including once at Cary Library, built a website (, and aspires to exhibit her canvasses in galleries. “My work is actually changing from more landscapes and florals to an abstract approach to paint,” she says. “I’ve always found that one of the things that’s really important when you’re drawing a cat, for example, that you have to capture the ‘catness’ of the cat. In my abstract paintings, I’m trying to get to the ‘subject-ness’ of whatever the thing is.” Her paintings feature lively strokes of color and a playfulness reflected in their titles: “Passionfruit Soup,” “Fudgy Berry,” and “Peanut Butter Shake.” Amantha regularly visits the Library, searching for inspiration. “Sometimes I just go and look at the stacks and find things I wouldn’t have imagined to look for,” she says. “It’s very surprising what is in that library!”


Amantha has served on the board of Lexington Open Studios, and LexFUN. She volunteers at her son Alex’s preschool, is an assistant teacher at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Lexington Center, and is a room parent at Estabrook.

Tom, meanwhile, is a parish board member at St. Nicholas Church, and also serves on the board of directors of Paint Rock Pool, one of Lexington’s neighborhood pools.

Their legacy gift to the Library is a forward-looking gift, and Amantha and Tom each have hopes for the Library’s future. “I think in the future, the human contact portion of the Library will be even more important,” Amantha says. She thinks that digitizing is no substitute for books on shelves. “I think the physicality of the Library and the community part of it should be even more pronounced,” she says.

Tom wants to preserve the Library’s, well, library-ness: “To some extent, the tools in the Library have evolved; the automated check-out, the on-line search. But what’s really nice is that it’s remained kind of the same. The smell, the feel of it. That part I wouldn’t want to change,” he says. “The books are there, the chairs are there, the story times, all the events that go on there—the Library is something that is good like it is.”

Jeri Zeder is a volunteer on the Planned Giving Committee of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation.



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All Things Sustainable

Q: Would the soil next to the bike path be suitable for growing vegetables?  What contaminants left by the railroad are of concern?  How far away from the tracks would the “fall out” area be?

A: All good questions. Here are a few different ways to think about the issue from our friend Meg Muckenhoupt.

In general, railroads were not good stewards of the land. The Rails to Trails Conservancy ( lists the following possible contaminants often found near railroad beds:

  • Chemically treated railroad ties
  • Oil, gasoline, cleaning solvents, etc.
  • Fossil fuel combustion products
  • Roofing shingles (asbestos)
  • Herbicides
  • Air compressors
  • Transformers and Capacitors
  • Metals

For $10 you can test your soil for heavy metals and some other soil contaminants via the UMass Extension soil-testing lab. It’s the best ten bucks you’ll spend on your garden. The UMass test results also provide recommendations for improving your soil (nutrient and pH adjustments) and protecting crops from contamination.

For peace of mind, you might want to build a raised bed. A raised bed is just a big box filled with soil. They warm up earlier than the ground, they are easier to keep free of weeds than beds at ground level, they are attractive, you can control what soil goes into them, and you can line the bottoms with landscape fabric to keep roots from reaching contaminants in the underlying soil.

That’s what the Food Project does in Boston to keep plants away from lead-contaminated city soils. If you’re not fond of carpentry, there are several local garden businesses to help you out; Rad Urban Farmers and Ben Barkan come to mind.

Meg Muckenhoupt writes about gardens and green spaces at and edits the Belmont Citizens Forum Newsletter ( Her most recent book is Boston Gardens and Green Spaces. (

Q: How would you define resilience in the context of developing a long-term plan for Lexington?

A: That’s an excellent question. Let’s take a look at some possible definitions. Ecologists call a system resilient if it is able to resist being pushed past a critical threshold. Business leaders tend to think of resilience as continuity in the face of natural disasters. Psychologists describe resilience as the ability to avoid being permanently damaged by trauma. For Lexington, I’d suggest that resilience means the ability to maintain our core purpose, our quality of life and integrity, while recovering and thriving in a disruptive environment.

Send your sustainability questions to We look forward to hearing from you.


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Getting Your Partner to (Really) Listen


Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC

Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC

Do you wish you could tell your partner what you are feeling more easily? Are you looking for a way to have a productive conversation without playing the blame and shame game? Do your “discussions” sometimes last into the wee hours of the night leaving you exhausted the next day?

When you have something important to share with your sweetie, you will need these 4 simple steps:

1. Choose the right time for ‘you’ to have the conversation (consider your time & your energy level)

2. Ask your partner if s/he is willing to talk at that time

3. Be willing to hear ‘no’ and ask for a better time

4. Schedule the conversation and agree to an ending time

Getting your partner to listen when s/he is not truly available can feel very frustrating — which only adds to an already charged situation.

If your experience is anything like mine used to be, your life is busy and it’s hard to fit time in for anything extra! It’s “easier” to avoid difficult conversations than approach them. You are frustrated because you often have to sift your way through the fog of blame and shame to get to clarity. You don’t feel deeply heard.

Several years ago, I learned there was a different way. Thank goodness! And I teach it to all of my clients!

You and your partner are going to love how easy this is for you both.

PRACTICE TIP: Sit together facing each other. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths together. Synchronize your breath for a few minutes (feel silly? keep going…trust the process, it works!) When you feel connected via your breath, open your eyes and look deeply at each other.

Make an agreement: one person will share at a time and the listener will reflect back what s/he heard…bit by bi

Slowly….switching speakers as needed. Use “I” statements. If you find yourself saying “YOU”, take a breath and start over! A do-over is a powerful tool to use! I recommend you limit your conversation to 1 hour max.

Now, what if you have something important to share with your partner, but feel like all you want to do is blame him (or her)? Here is exactly what you need to move forward and avoid a screaming match.

Take 5-10 minutes to journal what you are upset about (don’t skip this very important step!)

Re-read what you wrote and highlight every “you” or “s/he” and change them to “I” (this is called “the turn-a-round” according to Byron Katie’s The Work)

Look over the “I” statements and find nuggets of truth (leave the rest)

Now choose the right time for ‘you’ to have a conversation. Ask your partner if s/he is willing to talk at that time. Be willing to hear ‘no’ and ask for a better time. Schedule the conversation and agree to an ending time no more than 1 hour later.

You’ll want to take the steps above to heart and please share them with your partner. The idea here is that you don’t blame or shame your partner and s/he doesn’t do that to you!

It feels terrible to be on the receiving end of someone else’s blaming! “Well everything’s ruined and I’m upset because of YOU!” “I’m disappointed because you did this and you did that…and you made me feel this way or that way…and on and on and on.” We’ve all heard those words before. Sadly. And have those conversations been productive? Are they loving?

There’s more but I don’t want to give you too much at once. So begin with the invitation above (the steps) – and practice as often as you can.

You and your partner are on your way to deeper love already! Congratulations!

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Change Comes to My Part of the World

I live on a street of small Capes. There have been some expansions and renovations over the years, including one house that added a full second story before we moved there 27 years ago. Two houses at the very end of our long street became large, new, houses some time ago. Some people call them the Guard Houses because they sit at the end like sentinels.

Hank and House

Hank and House

The streets on either side of us started to go large long ago. The little house in back of us disappeared one afternoon. My son came down from a three hour nap and said “Where’s the house?” It had gone from house to hole in the ground in such a short time. He would later refer to the replacement as “The Plywood Overcast” because it blocked the sun at some point during the day. And there is the house nearby we refer to as “The Cliff” because it sits on a rise, with a sort of blank back side to us, looming over the neighborhood.

We’ve gotten used to those and the other large houses on the adjacent streets to the point that we no longer notice them much. Our own house is a standard post-war Cape with the back porch converted to a family room long ago. The Guard Houses are starting to blend into the neighborhood as well, but the Red House, which sits at the exit to the local elementary school and which replaced a small house some years ago, continues to look VERY BIG and VERY RED. It is also, unfortunately, very empty. Perhaps not everybody wants a really big house.

Houses have sold on our street now and then, but always to buyers who were looking for something they could renovate rather than rebuild. But then the elderly owner of a house in roughly the middle of the block moved away and a For Sale sign went up. We hoped that renovation would be the case with this one, but it appeared to be in poor shape and a tour inside did not encourage us. This one had gone beyond the fixer-upper stage.

The local newspaper brought us the bad news that the house had sold for quite a bit more than the asking price after at least 35 prospective buyers lined up. Well, bad in the sense that a large house was going to be in our future, but encouraging in another. When the time comes for my wife and me to sell our own Cape, we will probably realize more of a profit than we had planned for.

The SOLD sign went up followed by a more ominous sign—one for a surveyor. I spoke to the crew who told me that they were also doing work to place the foundation and that the planned house “would not be small.” I felt especially bad for the families who live on either side and across the street because all of those houses are nicely cared for and the new house will probably be out of scale with them.

The trees on the property came down soon after the surveyor left, big trees which had been there since the house was built more than fifty years ago. The last to go was a large, leaning, pine which sat squarely on the property line. Here I differ with some. If I were building a new house, no matter what size, on a small lot like the ones in my neighborhood, I would probably take a hard look at the life expectancy of the trees on my property. Like all of us, trees have a lifetime which is not forever. Unfortunately, most of the trees on my block were planted at the same time and now all are becoming elderly and at least some need to be replaced. The storm in October of 2011 and the hurricane this past year did some pruning with several of my neighbors taking a hint from Nature and engaging tree services to do even more, post-storm, trimming. We have all been looking at our trees with a tougher, but more worried, eye. We value them, but we also do not want to lose a roof. Taking down a mature tree on a small lot with houses all around it can be an expensive undertaking. Taking down a tree in the front yard can be difficult, but taking down one in a small backyard can make a huge dent in one’s wallet..

I wasn’t surprised when the neighbors who shared the pine tree with the empty house elected to let it go. And I will probably do some more pruning of the big maple in my backyard and the apple trees in my front yard to keep the walkways clear and allow some sun to get to the garden along with keeping branches laden with snow from scraping off shingles in the winter.

Looking back, the fact that an early snowstorm brought down the tree in our front yard four days after we moved in many years ago, was probably a good thing. It turned out that the trunk had extensive rot so the two apple trees replaced whatever was there before. Diversity is only rarely bad and that includes age and type of tree.

When we moved here all those years ago, we were the couple with the youngest kids. Then our kids became the oldest kids, but other families moved in with young children. Now our children are past college and working and the children who replaced them are being replaced by other children. We are sort of in our third, or maybe fourth, generation of children on the block which is really a healthy sign.

Of course houses have a life cycle just like people and just like trees. Our block lasted longer than many, but now it appears we are about to get a middle-of-the-block big house. I just hope they don’t put up big fences to match the big house. So far, the yards on our side of the street are only lightly fenced which seems to make us into more of a neighborhood. In an earlier column I wrote that while I know most of the people who live near me, I know almost nobody who lives in a house with a big fence.

It was inevitable that a house would be replaced just as someday all of them on my block will be replaced along with all of the inhabitants. We don’t live in a static world. But I wish it could have remained semi-static just a bit longer … At least until we sell ours at some point down the road …

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Putting Sports in Perspective

Commissioner Hanksmall

Commissioner Hank

I woke up the morning after the Super Bowl realizing I had to deal with a real crisis.

The new, probably large, house going up in my neighborhood which I wrote about earlier? No, I was just a bit saddened when more than 60 years of history disappeared in under 45 minutes, leaving only an empty lot where once a house had stood, but I had written about the inevitability of change and here it was happening right in front of me.

The fact that Tom Terrific had not been able to lead the Patriots to another NFL championship? Really, I am over that and am already looking forward to next season.

This was a real crisis because when the Super Bowl ran long because of the power outage (obviously they should have had a muni supplying electricity to the stadium), I lost any chance to see Downton Abbey that night. Sure, I could talk with the best of them around the water cooler about the football game, but not only was I going to be lost when the subject of Downton Abbey came up, it was very likely that before I could find another way to see the episode, most of the secrets would have been revealed. Did Bates get out of jail? Would Ethel manage to prepare lunch without embarrassing her employer or herself? Would Lady Mary stop being irritating and actually do something productive besides looking gorgeous and wearing clothes really well?

Of course, like many Lexingtonians, I am interested in sports, especially youth sports. The day before the Super Bowl I had spent five hours being the Commissioner of LBYH In-House Hockey, an 11-team, 187 player, inclusive league for kids between the ages of 5 and 11. Everybody gets equal playing time and coaches are evaluated mostly on how well they can bond with players and parents rather than their won-lost record.

I followed that with a short nap and then headed off for four hours of announcing at the LHS varsity hockey games. “Good evening hockey fans …” I once figured that I sit through something like 140 hockey games each year.

Of course there is baseball in the spring and summer, but here I stick with T-Ball age players. In fact, I spend most of my time with Pre-Ball which is for players between the ages of 4 and 6. And let’s not forget football in the fall.

So with all of that, I must be nuts about sports, right? Well, sort of, but not in the way you might expect.

Sports does touch kids’ lives and it can teach valuable lessons. But all too often I see things I would rather not see. Coaches who act out. Parents screaming about just about everything.

I forget who won and who lost almost as soon as the game is over. What I remember are the good plays, the flashes of brilliance, the displays of sportsmanship. The player who scores the first goal ever. My son slept with his trophy for weeks after he scored his first. A tiny goalie realizing that the pucks do not hurt because of all the padding and that she can stop them. Matt in his wheelchair propelling himself around the bases will be with me always. I wake up sometimes thinking “What if I had been so stupid that I denied Matt his chance just because he was in a wheelchair?” And then I remember that it all came out all right and I smile.

A few seasons ago, the LHS varsity hockey coach pulled up to the varsity for the last game of the season, a player who had spent his high school career on the junior varsity. The player would get to be a varsity hockey player even if only for one game. Then his teammates combined to feed him the puck so that he could score his first varsity goal.

I have no memory of how many games the team won that year. But that bit of magic told me all I needed to know about the coach and the team. They were all superstars as far as I was concerned.

The funny thing is that the kids care mostly about playing rather than about the score. Years ago a team I coached won a hockey tournament. The coaches were feeling pretty good about themselves. Obviously we were just about the best human beings around. Then I felt a tug on the hem of my jacket and looked down to find a tiny third liner with tears in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Do we have to stop playing hockey now? she demanded.” That little third liner didn’t care about the trophy in her hand. She didn’t understand won or lost. What she cared about was playing the game and now the season was over.

The fact is that no matter how good a Lexington player is, there is a nearly 100% chance that they will make a living doing something besides playing professional sports. So take it easy, enjoy the game, forget the mistakes and the bad games, and remember the good times.

Years ago I was the starting pitcher in a baseball game. We were mercy-ruled after the other team scored 21 runs in a single inning. While it was true I had struck out nobody, neither had I walked anybody nor had I made any errors or thrown a wild pitch. Even better I had made no fielding errors and my ERA was still zero because there had been no hits. All runs were scored on errors. And it was only the first inning.

The funny thing is that while I have played on some good teams over the years, that is the team I remember best. I still see the guys I played with. And we are still kidding each other about just how awful we were that day and just about every other day.

So most of my job has become figuring out how to let kids just play the game. I want everybody to have a chance to play the game, no matter what game it is, and I hope all of us can join in to make that happen. Not just with sports, either.


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Into the Light


Lexington memoirist and storyteller Anthony Martignetti publishes a collection of stories, many with Lexington roots, that resonate with humor, tenderness and ferocious honesty.


By Ana Hebra Flaster


Almost every day, Anthony Martignetti and his Border terrier, Piper, amble through Lexington Center at an almost European pace. There is no suburban power walking for these two. The leash dangles softly between them in quiet understanding. Martignetti’s cane lends a bit of support on the icy, gravel-strewn sidewalks of midwinter. The hint of another place and time that hovers over the old friends may originate in Martignetti’s Italian American roots. Or perhaps it stems from this longtime Lexington resident and psychotherapist’s Buddhist beliefs. Whatever its source, Martignetti has captured that air of another time and place with poignancy, energy and humor in his first book, Lunatic Heroes, a collection of short stories about his early life in Boston’s North End, West Medford Square and Lexington.

Boston-based indie publishing house 3 Swallys Press released the book in November, with a launch event at Lexington’s Cary Memorial Hall that drew more than 500 people. Part of the night’s success was due to the support for the book by musician Amanda Palmer and her husband, award-winning writer Neil Gaiman. While both artists performed at the event, Martignetti held the audience’s attention with powerful readings, particularly of the riveting Swamp, a piece about a pond full of myths and secrets near the author’s Lexington childhood home.

Martignetti was more than comfortable with the large audience. His background in theater and years of performing his stories to local audiences showed. As noted by the Worcester Telegram’s reviewer at the event, “[Martignetti] is an extremely captivating reader, with a Garrison Keillor-esque manner and charm…able to maintain energy and presence for the length of a story…a rare gift in a prose writer.” The audience responded to Martignetti’s energetic performance throughout the night, sitting rapt for long periods, exploding in laughter at others.

Palmer, who has described Martignetti as a combination of “mentor, guru…best friend,” recently suspended her European tour to be with the author as he receives treatment for an aggressive and rare form of leukemia.

Martignetti talked about Palmer’s gesture when we met recently in his loft, a book-lined space above the office where he meets his patients. The walls, shelves, and ceiling of the tree-house-like room hold clues of Martignetti’s passions. Books about the teachings of Christ rest next to Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, which leans against several copies of Tao Te Ching, which are bookended by a stack of leather journals the author has kept over the last fifteen years. A vintage Conga drum stands next to his writing desk. Hexagonal shurikens and other ninja weapons received as gifts during his martial arts days cling to the tongue and groove paneled ceiling. A “Martignetti” store sign from the early 1950s shines down in a neon swirl over the shelves. Across the room, draped over a peg, scarred leather boxing gloves remind Martignetti of his days as a club fighter. “I stunk,” he says, “but I fought a lot—for years.” On a side table, a pad of his watercolors is open to a half finished project. Nearby, a framed photo of the author with Palmer.

“I told her she didn’t have to do that,” he says, referring to the musician changing her touring schedule to be with him. “And when I told her that, she said—That’s exactly why I’m doing it.” Though Martignetti shrugs off the health challenges he’s facing, he admits that support from close friends, and especially his wife, attorney Laura Sanford, has been crucial in allowing him to counsel patients, promote Lunatic Heroes, and begin editing his next story collection.

Support from Palmer and Gaiman may have helped draw attention to Lunatic Heroes, but Martignetti’s writing is why the book has been so well received, and recently won the interest of a leading talent agency in New York City. These are linked, vibrant tales about a sensitive child growing up in a poorly functioning family, and the problems he faces as he tries to make sense of the beauty and cruelty surrounding him. Although a memoir, the book reads like a novel, with artfully drawn characters, rich dialogue and fast pacing. Much of the focus is on the author’s youth in Lexington, his confrontations with his force-of-nature father, creative but volatile mother, and a full cast of funny and horrible characters stretching from the streets of the North End to the Maritime Provinces. The writing is fluid and natural, more like listening in on a fascinating story than reading words on a page. Martignetti’s observations about human nature sparkle throughout the book, making the old friends, torturers and rivals he conjures up as real as those in our own lives. Despite the dark turns in many of the pieces, humor lifts the mood on most pages, as does the tenderness Martignetti feels for his characters, especially the wart-covered and the damaged.

“Humor definitely comes from pain,” Martignetti says. “Sitting around that dinner table every night, knowing my parents loathed each other, and being on the receiving end of the cruelty at times—you had to laugh to survive it.” Whatever the source of the humor, the comic moments stay with the reader long after the stories end. Like the image of a young Anthony carrying a bag full of cash from the family’s store in the North End to Shawmut Bank, Nonno, his gun-toting grandfather, a few steps behind, a pistol in his pocket, ready to take down any bad guys they might encounter. Or the scenes of his mother’s ill-fated efforts to end his nail-biting habit by gluing fake nails over his gnawed real ones. The boy develops a craving for the fake nails, and the mother doles them out to him during outings to keep him quiet. In another story, the writer experiences young love, and is fascinated and horrified by its possibilities. “I had no idea what to do with her—I was a rabbit chasing a tricycle.”

Like most memoirists, Martignetti considered the impact the darker stories might have on his family, but decided long ago to “honor my family with the truth.” Even when it means revealing the ugliest moments in a family’s life? The brutal criticism he endured at his father’s hands, the punishing bait-and-switch of love his mother used on him, his own moral failings? “You can’t put something under the scrutiny of observation and not see the dark side—unless you don’t want to see it.” Maybe there’s no difference between lunatics and heroes? He laughs. “Wherever you cast light, there will be shadows.”


“You can’t put something under the scrutiny of observation and not see the dark side—unless you don’t want to see it.”


Yet, as the characters emerge, dive and resurface in story after story, we begin to see the complexities of real lives. The harsh view we have of some characters softens in places, revealing the author’s understanding of human frailties. In Joe, we meet Martignetti’s father, a loving but unpredictably critical and angry man who one night, though tired after a grueling day, finds time to pull a six-year-old Anthony on a broken sled through the snow after a long work day. Though the son idolizes his father, we hear the far off drum of disappointment he will bring his father in the future, just by being himself: sensitive, curious, creative—different than the kind of man Joe admires. The conflicts between father and son rumble throughout the book, but the tenderness we first saw in Joe reverberates even to the end: “Some folks think he messed up with me. Some think I messed up. Everybody’s got an opinion. As far as I can tell, people get stuck together in this life. Sometimes it feels like love—and there’s nothing more you can say.”

The late January light is fading through the window by Martignetti’s desk. He looks down at his watch, then feels for a silver vial he wears on a chain around his neck. He empties out a handful of pills, pops them into his mouth and washes them down. “Gotta keep the chemical warfare going.” He smiles, remembering his first day of chemo, the day before that big crowd at the Cary Hall book launch. He’d lost some vision by then, some hearing also, was in graphic pain, and possibly in a mild state of shock at the combination of events: the cancer diagnosis, the publication of his first book, and the book launch the next night. When the moment came, he looked into the hall at a buzzing crowd of old fans and friends—and new ones, he hoped—waiting to hear what he had to give them. “I said, I’m going out there even if I’ve got to wear a johnny. This is happening.”

The fight in Martignetti is palpable, in person and in his writing. He says he wants to walk the edge in his writing. “If I’m not writing about something dangerous, what’s the point?” He’s got what he needs: his wife and family, Buddhism, the boxing gloves and assorted ninja weapons, his writing, and a heart full of gratitude for the community of lunatics and heroes around him.





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