Archives for December 2013

As We Close out 2013…

Jim Shaw, Publisher

Jim Shaw, Publisher

A Message from the Publisher

I guess it’s the curse of getting older— you look back and wonder, where did the time go? It seems that way for me as I think about 2013. I’m still waiting for summer to arrive and the first snow of the season has already fallen.

Like every year,2013 brought a variety of good news and bad news, reasons to celebrate and cause for concern. On a positive note, the Red Sox won another World Series. It’s funny, but since they won in 2003 and 2007, we kind of expect it now. This year’s win was memorable because they won here at Fenway Park. That win, helped to take the focus off the infamous event that changed the way we look at the Boston Marathon. The bombing at this year’s Boston Marathon changed countless lives. To say it was tragic is an understatement. But, it showcased what a community can do in the face of an unspeakable inhumane act —rally together to support the victims and their families, and come together to heal emotional wounds.

On a local level, Lexington celebrated its 300th anniversary in grand style. From the opening ceremonies to the Old-Time Baseball game, I’m hard-pressed to recall an occasion where so many people came together, from so many walks of life, for the common purpose of sharing an experience. The organizers did an extraordinary job. I’m playing with fire here because so many people contributed in so many profound ways. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the hard work and dedication of committee chair Sue Rockwell, and event co-chairs Jessie Steigerwald and Tanya Morrisett. Thank you for your dedication.

In July, I was installed as president of the Rotary Club of Lexington. It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of an organization that has served this community so profoundly since being established in 1929.Organizations like the Rotary Club and the Lexington Lions Club serve a vital purpose and I’d like to encourage everyone in the community to consider joining one of these organizations, or some other similar service group. So many things contribute to vibrant community, and volunteerism is among the most important components.

As we close out 2013, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has helped to make the Colonial Times Magazine such a special publication. The writers, the community leaders, the organizations that send us information, and of course, our advertisers. I personally want to thank my wife and our editor Laurie Atwater for her dedication and professionalism. Her vision and leadership has changed this publication in immeasurable ways. Likewise, the talent and dedication of Heather Aveson has made our work a little easier and even more enjoyable. Thank you Heather.

As you know, our publication is mailed each month free of charge. This is only possible because of the support we receive from our advertisers. We can’t thank them enough, and we encourage you to support these advertisers every chance you get. And, please let them know that you saw their ad in the Colonial Times.

Finally, Laurie and I want to say good-bye to our dear friend Patti Lynah, who lost a courageous battle with cancer. Patti owned and operated Mother Earth in Lexington Center for years. She was a special person who made it a personal mission to bring joy to others, and she did. We will miss her dearly.

Thank you for reading the Colonial Times.

We wish you a Happy New Year!


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Homeless for the Holidays

By Laurie Atwater 

For many families homelessness this holiday season is a fact of life. This past summer, the great recession continued to take a toll on the very poor. Many lost federal and state housing subsidies as well as their jobs.

This past summer, the state of Massachusetts experienced a jump in requests for emergency housing assistance from around 1200 families to over 2000 at the peak of the summer. To meet the need, the state has increased its use of hotels and motels to handle the demand. This, despite the millions that the Patrick administration has directed at homelessness prevention—mostly subsidies in the form of rental vouchers—to help families remain in their housing situations and prevent the cycle of homelessness.

HomeBASE (Building Alternatives to Shelter) is one of the programs administered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) designed to help those eligible for the state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) stabilize their housing situation. The program offers rental assistance and other housing related assistance and was so popular that the funds for this year (more than $80 million) ran out early. With a shortage of shelter options, families began to once again be placed by the state into hotels and motels in communities all around the Commonwealth. Additionally, HomeBASE is a time-limited (2 year) program and is scheduled to be phased out this June. Many families are beginning to cycle out of the program and are once again without adequate funds for housing. Homeless advocates worry that the numbers of homeless will continue to grow as this program phases out.

Those who find themselves housed in a motel, are forced to accept shelter that can be far away from where they originally lived. This creates major disruption for the children—who often shift schools—and hardship for the parents who may lose their jobs when move too far away. Families land in unfamiliar communities and in locations that are not easy to manage without a car. They become isolated and have no social support.

This practice is also challenging for the towns where the motels are located. By law—the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001—the communities must take responsibility for moving these children into their schools—often with little or no warning to the district.

The first item in the federal law states:

Each State educational agency shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths.

The community is also responsible for transporting the children to school and in some cases that means transporting them back to their original community. While these transportation costs are shared between the two communities, and ultimately reimbursed by the state, the town must cover the costs until the reimbursement is dispersed.

The state pays a little over $80 a day for a motel room under contract for this purpose. It would be far cheaper to provide rental assistance if affordable units were available, but the statewide shortage of affordable housing continues despite progress with the 40B developments and other programs.

In October the Massachusetts House and Senate approved a supplemental to the budget that includes $13million in additional funding for sheltering in hotels and motels. Lawmakers and advocates alike are frustrated with the seemingly little progress being made against the homelessness issue in the state and promise to seek more long term solutions in FY14.

Case workers from the agencies administering the HomeBASE funds work with homeless families in the motels to help them find a more permanent housing solution. Many families are in need of help with acquiring English language skills to become more employable and general assistance like SNAP funds for food.

In Lexington, the Quality Inn is housing a number of homeless families. The exact number is uncertain, but according to a report prepared for the school committee by Valerie Viscosi, K-12 Director of Guidance and Tessa Riley, K-12 Assistant Director of Guidance, “In Lexington the majority of our current homeless families are living in a local hotel.” The report was presented at the November 19th School Committee meeting by Viscosi who advocated for a .5 Social Worker to handle the “significant amount of case management” involved in dealing with the “families that have joined our community.” Most of the students residing at the Quality Inn are attending Estabrook and they propose that the social worker use that school as home base.

The memorandum states:

As of the date of this memorandum, there are 25 families identified as homeless living in Lexington. Among those families, there are 26 school-aged children. Sixteen of the children attend their “school of origin” in another community, while 10 attend a Lexington Public School. Of those children who are attending the Lexington Public Schools, 7 attend elementary schools, 1 attends middle school, and 2 attend high school. Many of the families also have younger children. There are reportedly 28 children under the age of 5.

Presenting to the school committee Viscosi discussed the complexity of the different family situations, the need for a wide array of services from Free School lunch to health care and educational interventions such as English Language Learner assistance. She also described the difficulty of navigating the state systems and locating the appropriate agencies to deal with regarding the care of the students in their charge. And she noted that these students are truly in the charge of the Lexington Public Schools—by law.

Currently guidance staff has been stretched thin trying to assess each child and develop an appropriate plan for intervention. Having the part-time social worker would alleviate the stress on the schools and help to further develop protocols, procedures and policies moving forward.

These students could be in Lexington anywhere from 6 months to a year. Families must try to create a life for their children within the four walls of a motel room. It is a situation that is almost untenable for these families who cannot prepare healthy meals, get outside or even get to their children’s teacher conferences. Still, it is better than being without shelter in the middle of winter.

Concerned Lexingtonians have begun to rally around the children attending school in Lexington and their families. Church groups and the PTSAs are organizing for action. The Lexington Human Services Department headed by Charlotte Rodgers is stepping up to help.

This story is just beginning to develop in Lexington. Ashley Rooney has been following the issue of homelessness and wanted to hear the story from the perspective of one of the residents at the Quality Inn. What follows is an account of Ashley’s visit with Osamah Salman, his wife Maha and their four children.


Osamah Salman and his wife Maha. and their four children: (from right to left) Muntedar, age 10; third-grade twin daughters, Hawraa and Zahraa, and 2 ½ year old Hasah.  The school aged children attend Estabrook School in Lexington.

Osamah Salman and his wife Maha. and their four children: (from right to left) Muntedar, age 10; third-grade twin daughters, Hawraa and Zahraa, and 2 ½ year old Hasah. The school aged children attend Estabrook School in Lexington.

Hoping for a Better Future

By E. Ashley Rooney

Photo by Peter Lund


My curiosity overwhelmed me! I knew homeless people supported by state social services were living in the Quality Inn in Lexington, but I didn’t see much happening around town to support them. Nor did I see people hanging out around the inn. What was going on? I had heard many stories about the “motel people” in Bedford and the community providing them with healthy food and services, but nowhere in my travels around town did I hear about the motel folks in Lexington.

So I went to the bustling food pantry at the Church of Our Redeemer and met Osamah Salman and his friend Ali Ai, who are from Jordan. The next day, I went to the Quality Inn on Bedford Street to meet Osamah and his wife Maha. They have four children: Muntedar, age 10; third-grade twin daughters, Hawraa and Zahraa, and 2 ½ year old Hasah. The school aged children attend Estabrook School in Lexington.

The six members of Osamah’s family have lived in two small motel rooms for over a year. They cook, sleep, bathe, play, and do their homework in these two rooms; they are not supposed to loiter outside. Every morning, the children go off to school at Estabrook and the parents attend English classes at Middlesex Community College.

When I went to see them, the twin girls waved shyly from their bedroom door. Preschooler Hasah came out smiling happily and followed me into his parents’ room. Pumpkins sat on the window sill and a Unicef box was sitting on the telephone. Leaning against one bed was a bicycle—their only means of transportation other than the bus. Across from the bike stood the motel mini-refrigerator and a small microwave oven—the kitchen.

They all said they wanted out of the motel and into a home. Nine year-old Hawraa said, “We want a kitchen and a room for the family.” Muntedar and Zahraa added that they wanted a back yard. Their parents echoed the need. Their mother said living in the motel was like living in a cage–one they don’t often escape.

In 1989, Osamah and Maha left Southern Iraq because of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. They went to Jordan, where they had their children. Osamah did stonework in the construction industry; Maha was a busy housewife with four children. Although he had a good job there they felt that their future was limited because of their Iraqi background. They were not accepted.

They wanted to live in a democratic country. Osamah said, “We wanted freedom.” On July 5, 2012, they immigrated to America. They began their life here the day after our Independence Day. Osamah quickly realized that with “zero language skills” finding work would be difficult.

Like many of our forebears, they came here for the American dream. Fulfilling that dream has been very challenging, but they persist. The Department of Social Services sent them to a shelter and told them to get a job, but the language barrier proved too difficult—Osamah couldn’t understand the application or respond well to the interviewer. His first priority is to learn English and he is studying hard. I mentioned that they might want a tutor and they lit up.

Meanwhile, Osamah wants to work. He is looking for part-time labor during the college breaks and on weekends. He will shovel snow, build a fireplace or clean a basement … whatever it takes to make his way in this country.


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Santa Comes to Lexington

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Turkey~The Truly American Bird

HeaderIntroBy Digney Fignus

Everybody knows the legend about how Thanksgiving came to be. However, the actual first Thanksgiving was somewhat different from the version I learned in school. Although there had been numerous celebrations of “thanks” in Colonial America, Thanksgiving has only been an official national holiday since 1863. It was during the Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November and declared it a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

While Virginia claims an earlier similar event, the commonly recognized first American “Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 at Plimoth Plantation when Puritan Governor Bradford and about 53 Pilgrims got together with 90 Wampanoag Indians, including the tribe’s legendary king Massasoit (for whom Massachusetts is named).< br >
The feast sealed an alliance between the two groups and celebrated the colonists’ first harvest in the New World. Venison rather than turkey was the main course. Warriors from the tribe brought five fresh killed deer to the feast. Rather than a few hours, this harvest bash lasted for three days. Although no specific date has been established, it was probably held sometime in October. Surprisingly, despite abundant wild turkeys available to hunt there is a controversy as to whether they were on the initial bill o’ fare. Apparently the partying Pilgrims preferred duck and goose to the wily gobbler, a bird that was coveted more for its feathers than its taste by the Native Americans, who considered it “starvation food.”

Our domestic turkey is hardly the same as the wild turkey that was indigenous to New England when the Pilgrims arrived. As the European invasion spread westward, it hunted the native turkey into near extinction. According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the wild populations of turkeys in Massachusetts had been completely eliminated by 1851. The wild turkey might have gone the way of the carrier pigeon if it had not been for a dedicated group of turkey enthusiasts who in the last century began to reintroduce the species to areas where it had once flourished.

The turkey is a bird to be admired on many levels. There is even a story that Benjamin Franklin argued that the turkey should be our National Symbol rather than the Bald Eagle. He talks about it in a letter he sent to his daughter Sally from France on January 26, 1784: “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. … For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

New YorkerThe legend of Franklin and the turkey was further cemented in November 1962 when the New Yorker magazine published a cover by artist Anatole Kovarsky (left) taking Franklin’s idea a step further and depicting the Great Seal of the United States with a turkey pictured in the center.

Turkeys are fascinating in a prehistoric kind of way. Mature males are called “Toms” and display prominent red wattles and wart-like caruncles on their fleshy heads along with a long hanging “snood” that drapes over the beak. They can turn colors like a chameleon. When they are excited their heads turn blue and when they’re ready to fight their head flushes red. In addition to their prominent fan-shaped iridescent display feathers, adult males have long “beard” feathers jutting out from their chests. Juvenile males are called “Jakes” and although similar to the adults can be differentiated by their shorter beard and a tail fan that has longer feathers in the middle. The adult fan is the same length throughout. Wild turkeys can gather in huge “rafters” of up to 150 birds or strut around the woods by themselves.

Backyard Behavior
These days the suburban bird doesn’t seem too afraid of humans. I had one perched on my back wall every day for about a week a few years back and I watched a gang of eight running across the lower end of Concord Ave. just the other day. Wild turkeys are here to stay and as human interaction increases we need to know a little bit about how to deal with them. Both MassWildlife and the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs recommend not feeding wild turkeys. Not only does it disrupt the natural order, you just might be opening Pandora’s Box. One of our mail carriers told me this cautionary tale. Thinking he was doing the right thing, he tossed a few crumbs out to a turkey that happened by his yard one day. Big mistake, “The next day there were four turkeys in the yard and the day after that there were twenty.” One turkey is cute. Twenty turkeys can be a little scary.

If you are ready to go and catch your own turkey Pilgrim-style you won’t have to rely on a handy blunderbuss. Turkey hunting has become a highly specialized affair. Considering that the wild turkey has almost reached nuisance status, it’s hard to imagine that wild turkeys were only reintroduced to Massachusetts 40 years ago. With the cooperation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, MassWildlife trapped 37 turkeys in southwestern New York and released them in Beartown State Forest in the Berkshires in 1973. In 1978 they began to relocate birds from the initial group to other locations across the state. From there the turkey population literally exploded. Today they inhabit every mainland city and town in the Commonwealth. Currently the state’s turkey population is estimated at well over 30,000 birds. In Massachusetts the recovery has been so complete that limited hunting is allowed for this prized game-bird in the spring and fall.

Turkey Shoot

The wild turkey is considered one of the toughest birds to hunt and is highly respected by sportsmen. I got to talk to Bob, one of the hunting experts at Bass Pro Shops, the local mecca for sports hunters. I wanted to know what it would take to outfit myself for a turkey hunt. To be honest, I didn’t think turkey hunting would be such a challenge.

Group shotI’ve often seen the crazy birds brazenly stopping traffic on some of the main drags around town. I figured all I’d need was a loaf of bread and a hammer to bag my quota. Bob assured me it would be a little more complicated than that. “Their eyesight is phenomenal. There’s no rhyme or reason as to what turkeys do. The trick is just don’t move. Call them, and have them come in on a decoy. Hope they come in on your line of sight because if you have to swing your gun, you’re not going to get them.” Because turkeys roost in the trees at night Bob gave me an excellent tip: “Go out after dark and blow a crow call. The turkeys will respond to it because they don’t like crows.” Once you’ve located the general area where the turkeys are roosting you can return around dawn the next morning when they are leaving the trees to begin their activity.

So what will it cost you for a turkey hunt? Once you pay for your license and ammo you’ll need a complete camouflage outfit, along with a turkey hunting vest with a brand name like “Thunder Chicken” or “Ol’ Tom,” one of the 202 choices for a turkey caller, an optional crow call, a couple of turkey decoys, and of course a super-deluxe fully camouflaged 12 gauge Remington short barrel turkey shotgun. The total cost to get you started: $2000 – $2500. In comparison, that buys about 500lbs of store-turkey @$5.00/lb.

There is a big difference between the wild turkey and the domestic bird that has been bred for consumption. Technically it’s the same species, however wild birds are black and brown and fly, while domestic birds are typically white and nearly flightless. Wild birds are mean and lean. Domestic birds are bred to be BIG and especially to have more breast meat. And while the wild bird is cantankerous and combative, the domestic version has been engineered to be less aggressive.

Turkey FarmingKate

If you don’t have the patience for hunting and are going the more traditional route of snaring your turkey at a store, the modern chef has more choice than ever before. During the second half of the 20th century turkey farming was aggressively consolidated. Family farms began to disappear and large farm conglomerates raising over 50,000 birds at a time became the norm. Driven by profit, these huge businesses often employed inhumane practices and questionable additions of growth hormones to maximize their returns. Beginning in the 1950’s the industry also heavily marketed the modern image of Thanksgiving with the perfectly roasted turkey at its center.

Current Practices

More recently, public awareness and demand for a more natural and humanely bred bird has challenged that model with smaller high-quality operations and boutique farms that specialize in free-range and “all natural, cruelty free” birds. Rather than preparing your banquet with a frozen turkey, places like Wilson Farm and Stillman’s at the Lexington Farmer’s Market offer tasty alternatives.
Mark Silvano is the turkey buyer at Wilson Farm. They supply locals with about 2000 all natural, no antibiotic, humanely raised and processed birds every Thanksgiving. He is proud of their product: “It’s certainly not a turkey you can get anywhere else. It comes in a clear bag so you see what you’re getting.”

For years Wilson’s has been getting its “fresh not frozen” turkeys exclusively from Jaindl’s Family Farm of Orefield, PA. The farm emphasizes their turkeys are “raised on corn, wheat and soybeans in open large barns, not cages. No growth hormones, nor animal by-products or fish meal is in the feed.” Wilson’s has to place turkey orders 6 months in advance in order to meet holiday demand. Customers can reserve a bird starting in November either by phone, at the farm, or online. Mark never worries about selling out. He smiles, “If there is anything left over, there will be a big sale on turkey pot pies.”

If you prefer your turkeys raised and processed locally, Stillman’s at The Turkey Farm in Hardwick is a terrific choice. A regular at the Lexington Farmers Market, Kate Stillman has been raising turkeys for the last eight years. When she first bought the farm, turkeys were not in her game plan. “Turkeys are not as entertaining as pigs or sheep.” But the first time Kate pulled into the only gas station in her small town, “the attendant said ‘Oh, you bought the old turkey farm.’” She laughs, “I figured if everybody knew it as ‘the turkey farm’ I’d better start raising some turkeys.” She later met one of the members of the original family who had operated the farm since 1830. At that time the farm was raising more than 5000 free-range birds.

Currently Kate manages around 500 birds along with the rest of her farm animals. Remarkably, a turkey can grow from a newborn poult weighing a few ounces to a full-grown bird topping the scales at 30lbs within 6 months. Kate starts taking holiday orders beginning in August and is enthusiastic about her product. “How we raise them. That’s what makes them taste so good. That’s the biggest advantage. Even if you go to a high-end grocer, it’s not the same thing as buying a local free-range bird. The taste difference is profound.”

Personally I’m amazed at the speed with which the wild turkey has been able to reestablish itself into our local woodlands. Today they are almost as common as crows. I tip my hat to the tough and cocky symbol of our annual holiday feast.

Now if they could only learn to cross the road in the crosswalks.

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