Curb Your Enthusiasm

By Heather Aveson  |

“Everybody knew for a couple of years it was coming. But I didn’t expect it to be this bad,” says Tony Mitri, owner of the Gulf Service Center of Lexington struggling to be heard over the rumble of machinery and gazing back at his banks of empty pumps. It’s another day in what Diane Garabedian of Prime Roast Beef and Seafood now refers to as ‘a war zone’. “The situation seems to be that they just came in and blew everything up.” Business owners, shoppers and commuters are all feeling frustrated by the major road construction at the intersection of Rte. 2A (Marrett Road) and Waltham Street.

LEFT: Construction trucks, debris and barriers discourage motorists and shoppers from visiting the shops at Marrett Square.

On paper the project warrants just a three line description by the Mass Department of Transportation. But at ground zero it’s a different story. The project has involved everything from digging up the street to replace drainage systems and add new signal components to removing and relocating utility poles and all the wiring associated with them in addition to all the work at street level. From one merchant’s point of view “it’s just been chaos.”

When construction began this spring the extent of the project took everyone by surprise. Even the Lexington DPW didn’t seem to understand its scope. A web page set up to answer questions about the project estimated “there will be 3 – 4 construction workers and 3 pieces of equipment on site. More or larger equipment may be brought in for specific portions of the work.” But, business owners have not been kept up to date and interruptions have been extensive due to the large numbers of workers, equipment and debris blocking the intersection and individual businesses during the busiest part of the day. And that’s led to a lot of frustration. Sal Serio of Nature’s Way Cleaners sees his customers making major adjustments, but at least they’re still coming. “I’m doing OK. My core customers have told me they’ve switched their times to come. The 8am people come at 4pm. I’m fortunate; my customers have been really loyal to me – through thick and thin. I appreciate that.” But at Prime Roast Beef and Seafood the Garabedians’ customers can’t be as flexible. “When 65% of your business is lunch, you can’t work around it. We get people who call and before they place an order they ask, Is that mess still going on? If you have half an hour for lunch and you’re going to be stuck in traffic for forty minutes you’re going to go somewhere else.” Bruegger’s Bagels is also feeling the squeeze. With customers stopping in for a morning bagel or light lunch they’re customers have to battle the busiest part of the construction day. Bruegger’s Manager, Edwin Urena has watched their sales fall approximately 25% a week over last year.

RIGHT: Road widening has left utility poles stranded in the pavement. One of the final steps in the project will be the relocation of all poles and services.

Anneli Mynttinen of Lexington has braved the chaos to drop off dry cleaning at Nature’s Way, “I try to avoid this area. I cut down the side streets. I still frequent the stores when I can. I’m just surprised that it’s everywhere in town.” And that just adds to the frustration. Selectman Peter Kelley has been following the project closely since its inception more than a decade ago. “Part of the frustration is that there are other road projects going on at the same time, like the resurfacing of Marrett Road from Mass Ave. That’s a separate contract with a different contractor. On the projects that the town is more directly involved with, we try to arrange for work to be done at times when there are fewer cars on the road, But because this is a state contract, managing the day-to-day activity is pretty much out of our hands. However, I can tell you that Lexington DPW officials are encouraging the contractor to move the project along as swiftly as possible.”

Ed Sullivan of Tricon Sports feels the clock is ticking, “Has it impacted us, yes maybe to a lesser degree than some of the other businesses. But if they don’t get this done pretty quickly we’ll really be impacted because high school sports start up in the next week or so. We draw from all around and once they go somewhere else, it’s hard to get people to come back.” For other merchants even the temporary loss of business is having a devastating effect. “They’re doing this project at our expense. We’ve been here less than a year, this is the last thing we need. It creates a domino effect,” says Garabedian. He’s already had to cut back his employees hours. Tony Mitri at the Gulf Station is worried about his employees as well. “The people who work for me – they’ve been working for me a long time. I can’t lay them off just because it’s slow. Who’s going to help me.” With the pumps and repair bays empty his guys try to stay busy improving the station’s curb able by cleaning up the planter around their sign. It’s a heartening juxtaposition amidst the ravaged landscape that surrounds them.

Communication Breakdown

Merchants feel left out of the information loop. Although the DPW website states that, ‘MassDOT will contact businesses a day in advance if a staging area will cause any interruptions on the property,’ business owners say that’s just not happening. Communication becomes even more complicated because the project has been contracted out to a private firm, J. Tropeano of North Andover, through the state bidding process. Though some official communication may be going on between the state, the contractor and the landlords, the information isn’t getting to the business owners. It’s unclear where the breakdown is occurring, but the merchants are paying the price. This breakdown may merit review by the town before embarking on future large scale projects. In the meantime, merchants rely on gossip and word of mouth rather than official channels for updates. Ed Sullivan has heard several rumors about drainage issues slowing the project down and that’s how he gets all his information. “No representatives come in to update us – the only updates we get are secondhand.” And staging areas and interruptions have been hampering business since the project began. Sal Serio worries about his neighbors, “There’s been no contact with the state. They’ve paid attention to the traffic flow. But access to certain places, like Gino’s and the UPS store has been blocked for five weeks. The Marrett Square merchants, already pinched for parking, sometimes find themselves barricaded in their own shops. Diane Garabedian looks out her front window at the oversized machinery and piles of rubble in front of his shop. “The other day they were parking here, had their trucks here. They completely blocked off the area at lunch time. That’s 65% of our business gone.” And that’s what scares a lot of these merchants the most. Tony Mitri echoes his Tricon Sports neighbor concerns. No matter how well the newly configured intersection works he knows, “When people change their habits it hard to get them to come back.”

Businesses are doing their best to keep customers coming during construction so they won’t have to woo them back later. Tricon Sports still has its tempting racks out front, Crushed Grapes held a wine tasting over the weekend and Prime Roast Beef is offering more lunch specials than usual. Supporting the businesses now is an investment in the future, just as everyone hopes the reconfigured intersection will be. Francesca Pfrommer of Lexington continues to make her way through the construction to patronize Nature’s Way. She takes a long range view of the chaos. “The inconvenience is about upgrading the infrastructure. I have children who go to Clarke and they walk. For a while I would go through town to avoid this area but they have their own set of stuff. So – just grin and bear it.” Selectman Peter Kelley is also looking forward but is committed to helping merchants now, “The good news is the project is nearing completion and now that the pavement is down, it’s a bit easier to travel through that intersection and I highly encourage everyone to support those businesses that have been affected by the construction.”

The Grand Plan

The Grand Plan

The 1.8 million dollar project has been in the works for years, actually for more than a decade. Rich Nangle of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation points out that this project is not unusual in that way. It’s actually typical. A project has to reach several milestones before getting funded and moving on to the construction phase. At a Massachusetts Highway Department community design meeting in June 2006, Design Consultant John Bechard said he first got the project in 1997. According to the Bechard the intersection was listed on the Top 1000 (most dangerous intersections) for several years. He cited antiquated signal systems for both cars and pedestrians, the wide open nature of the intersection, and the lack of sidewalks and curb cuts as major deficiencies of the intersection.

The project proceeded in fits and starts for several years and by the 2006 Community Meeting it had reached the twenty-five percent design benchmark. There were still the seventy-five percent and one hundred percent designs to get through. After that a project gets in line to enter the TIP, or Transportation Improvement Program which funds projects and gets them on a schedule.

The overall design met with widespread community approval at the meeting. The intersection’s central location between Lexington High School and Clarke Middle School as well as within walking distance of Bridge Elementary made pedestrian safety a major issue for community members. The Highway Department agreed and cited improved pedestrian safety along with better traffic flow as the top priorities for the intersection..

The final design features widened roads on both approaches of Marrett Road and the northbound or Lexington Center bound approach of Waltham Street to accommodate left turn lanes, new traffic signals will be mast mounted making them more visible and will include protected turn phases for the Marrett Road westbound and Waltham Street northbound approaches. These are all designed to improve traffic flow and cut down on wait times for signal phases. New pedestrian signals will conform with current safety standards and include an exclusive pedestrian phase. Concrete sidewalks with curb cuts and wheelchair ramps will also improve pedestrian safety. In addition, the traffic island in front of Dunkin Donuts will be removed and the corner built out and landscaped. Entrances to businesses along Marrett Rd. will be clearly delineated adding to the safety of both moving traffic and those entering and exiting the roadway.

After contacting the agencies and contractor involved in the project it became clear I wasn’t going to get an official response either. But through word of mouth, it looks like construction should be wrapping around the end of October. A bit sooner than originally planned. In the meantime, frequent your favorite local merchants, or even drop in on a new one, in the area and remember Nature’s Way customer Francesca Pfrommer’s philosophy, “If you can take the bigger view it’s actually going to improve the area. Just take a deep breath.” And support your neighborhood merchants.

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Word Of The Day: Toastmasters

By Heather Aveson  |  “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” This quote has been attributed to Woodrow Wilson, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. It may be that they all uttered some variation on a common theme.

Lexington Toastmasters Club newest club member, Liam Walsh shares the sentiment with me as he prepares his first speech, a slender 4 – 6 minutes. The local club is celebrating 25 years of helping its members improve their public speaking and leadership skills.

“Toastmasters changed my life. They really did. Put me on the stage. I don’t know what I would have done without that positive boost.”   ~ Chris Matthews on Toastmasters

Chris Mattews is a well-known author and journalist who hosts MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and The Chris Matthews Show.

Lexington Toastmasters Board of Directors: Left to right Peter Ash, Sargent-at-Arms; Victoria Ngo-Phat, Treasurer; Bhavana Laad, President; Mary Roberts, VP PR; Robert Isenberg, VP Education. Missing: Duncan Stewart, VP Membership, and Sue McKittrick, Secretary.

We all know how to talk, but can we speak? Can we persuade, communicate, impassion, inspire? Some are born with a gift for public speaking, but most have to work at it. And some are truly paralyzed by the prospect of standing in front of a crowd. Many can remember “oral reports” in school and the terrible fear of getting up in front of the class.

In today’s competitive work climate it can be argued that speaking persuasively is more important than ever whether you are selling yourself in a job interview or presenting your ideas to clients or colleagues.

Toastmasters International began in the basement of a California YMCA in 1924 when Ralph Smedley realized that many of the young graduates with whom he worked could use “training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings.” He styled it after a social club to suggest a comfortable, pleasant atmosphere that would attract members. It was originally a “men only” group until it was expanded in the early 70s to include the huge numbers of women entering the labor market.

Toastmasters International now has more with 12,500 clubs with over 260,000 members in 113 countries. Smedley’s original 15-project manual Basic Training for Toastmasters still serves as the backbone of the club’s skill building. Toastmasters has many famous members including Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball, Debbie Fields Rose founder of Mrs. Field’s Cookies, Carl Dixon, Rock Musician, former lead singer for The Guess Who, Peter Coors of Coors Brewing Company, actor Tim Allen and Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock in Star Trek.

The Lexington Toastmasters Club began as a corporate club in the D.W. Heath publishing arm of Raytheon Corporation in 1986. Lexington resident Arthur Fox was a member of the original club when it was known as the ISBN club. “It was called the ISBN club because of it was run by a publishing company and it stands for International Standard Book Number, but we also called it, “I Speak Better Now.” When D.W. Heath was sold and moved in the 1990’s the club was left behind. Members, including Fox, adopted it and brought it to Lexington center, first meeting upstairs in the Visitor’s Center and then renting space at various churches. Eventually they found a permanent home in the conference room of Cambridge Saving Bank where they meet weekly.

Arthur Fox remembers trying to keep the club going through tough times. “Toastmasters Clubs go through a lot of transformations. At some point this club fell into decline when we only had twelve members and maybe only four came. You have to be very careful about electing officers. Success really depends on them.” The club is in great health now with a strong slate of officers and approximately forty members. Between twenty and thirty members show up to any given meeting.

“Public speaking is like any sport. When you have honed your public speaking skills to a certain point, if you don’t continue to do it, work at it, it starts slipping.”
~ Arthur Fox, Lexington Toastmasters member

Meetings follow a specific agenda that offer both structure and flexibility. incoming President Sue McKittrick says, “The structure takes you through the things you’re supposed to learn.” The flexibility comes from subject matter and the ad lib section of the meetings, the Joke or Thought of the Day and Table Talkers, which are topics put out to the group for short spontaneous discussion by the group. Sue continues, “Table Talkers are great. Everyone participates in every meeting and it leads into other topics.”

For new member Karen Georgio “Table Talkers almost feel like better preparation for real life. You have to come up with something right on the spot.”

A spontaneous discussion may appeal to Karen right now because she just gave one of the most difficult speeches for most members, The Icebreaker

This is the first presentation by new members. They are given 4 -6 minutes to introduce themselves to the group. Education is central to Toastmasters and so new members are paired up with a mentor to prepare for their Icebreaker.Longtime member and Lexington resident Robert Isenberg, has been the group’s unofficial mentor for years and is now the Vice President of Education. He mentored Karen as she prepared for this first speech. “I was on a business trip to California so I had all this time on the plane. I wrote an entire speech that I tossed. Then I had time to write another one.” Although she got most of the way there, Robert’s input brought the speech where she wanted it to be. “That last twenty percent of tweaking made a huge difference.”

How does she feel now that it’s over? “It was the last week of school, I was crazy busy. I couldn’t psycho obsess about it. If I had spent too much time worrying about it I don’t think it would have come off as well as it did.”

The group’s newest member, Liam Walsh, is preparing his Icebreaker for the fall. Liam was a member of the Glendale, Arizona club in the mid-90’s. Liam says back then he concentrated on self-improvement and practicing public speaking. This time he looks at it as more of a hobby, “I always wanted to go back. It was a lot of fun. Watching somebody improve is a lot of fun.” As an accountant Liam says, “I never really sat down and wrote a speech. I just talked about numbers.” He’s not sharing what he’ll talk about during his Icebreaker, but he will share the process that helps Make the Butterflies Fly in Formation, as the Toastmasters Manual puts it. “I would do a speech in the car on a tape recorder. I’d practice it over and over to get to time. I was surprised at how much I improved. The process really worked for me.”

Getting over the fear of speaking and improving communication and leadership skills is at the heart of Toastmasters. Arthur Fox says, “Public speaking must arouse a really primal kind of reaction. It doesn’t have to be that scary. Basically the process desensitizes you to the fear by giving you the tools.” The simple learning-by-doing method has helped millions of men and women become more confident in front of an audience.

Speaking publicly in your native language is scary enough for most of us, but the Lexington Toastmasters attracts a lot of foreign speakers looking to improve their communication skills as well. Arthur Fox is thrilled. “The influx of foreign speakers is one of the flavors that we have. I think it’s remarkable when you’re learning to make the quantum step from just talking during a conversation to speaking publicly.” Their subjects bring a new dimension to the club as well. “Their stories are fascinating stories. One of our members had escaped the war in the Balkan States, another person in the club went through the Khmer Rouge.”

Members find their way to Toastmasters in many ways. Sue McKittrick followed the path of many others. “I was starting my own business and thinking about how to grow a business. One thing I wanted to do was speak publicly. It’s been very good. Speeches are short. I’ve learned to speak in small snippets. It’s helped me build routines. Because of what I’ve learned I’ve gotten some speaking engagements. It’s helped me build credibility.” Karen Georgio felt a similar tug in starting her new business. “I didn’t want to get all my ducks in a row and then realize, ‘Oh, yeah. I have to present this,’ I absorb a lot just being there. I start to listen differently.”

Some members join when they take a new job and know they will be called upon to present or when they lose a job and want more confidence putting themselves out there, others join to improve a specific skill or work their way through the speaking and leadership process and then leave. No matter how long members stay the group builds a special connection. Arthur Fox notes, “You build an intimacy in a safe, structured environment. Topics are often very close to the person. So you learn a lot about people’s lives. You feel like you know them on a level that you wouldn’t in another organization.” Liam Walsh sees the Icebreaker as the first step in opening up. “It’s an opportunity for people to get to know you a bit. Talking about yourself is the easiest subject you can pick.” And Karen Georgio appreciates connecting with members, “I feel like I’ve found a group of very interesting people—a real cross-section that I wouldn’t have been exposed to. You get to know people by what they chose to talk about.”

Lexington Toastmasters sees about a ten percent turnover in membership every year. For Arthur Fox and other long time members there’s a real benefit to putting your skills on the line year after year. “Public speaking is like any sport. When you have honed your public speaking skills to a certain point, if you don’t continue to do it, work at it, it starts slipping.”


Lexington Toastmasters Club meets Thursdays at noon in the basement of Cambridge Savings Bank on Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington center. For more information on the club, contact Mary Roberts at 617-653-0370.

For fun, log on to some Toastmasters Podcasts at:

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Celebrating Memorial Day

By State Senator 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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Take a Booker to the Beach

By Judy Buswick  |  Would fiction from the list of Booker Prize winners be good summer reading for Lexingtonians? And who won this year’s award? My goal was to find the answers.

The prestigious Booker Prize for writers of English-language fiction is given by a different judging panel each year to either an established author or a first-time novelist chosen as the writer of the year’s best-fiction title in the British Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. Begun in 1969, the prize was originally dubbed the Booker-McConnell Prize, after its sponsoring company, but the title was commonly shortened to “the Booker Prize” or just “the Booker.” Though prize money was originally £21,000 (or $33,628 in today’s currency), in 2002 the administration of the prize transferred to the Booker Prize Foundation, an independent charity, when the Man Group investment firm joined in sponsoring the award.  Renaming it “the Man Booker Prize for Fiction,” the foundation increased the annual award to £50,000 (or $80,067) with literary excellence still its sole focus. Needless to say, writers cherish this award, since the winners are typically assured international fame and success. Even those merely nominated for the Booker receive a certain distinction and respect in the book trade for being considered for this most important literary prize in the English-speaking world.

The Booker Prize Foundation appoints an advisory committee of “an author, two publishers, a literary agent, a bookseller, a librarian, and a chairperson.” This committee then selects a judging panel “from amongst leading literary critics, writers, academics and notable public figures” to review submissions. From the following abbreviated list of winners, Lexington readers may find an author or title yet to be read, or for viewing on DVD :

South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer won the Booker in 1974 for “The Conservationist,” a novel exploring apartheid through the Zulu culture and a wealthy white South African farmer buries an unidentified corpse found on his property and seeks to conserve peace and apartheid. Gordimer also won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Iris Murdoch of Ireland won the 1978 Booker for her nineteenth novel “The Sea, the Sea,” which recounts an aging playwright’s obsession with a romance from his youth, as he begins to write his memoir. Egotism and selfishness abound.

In 1981 India’s Salman Rushdie won for his novel of historical fiction Midnight’s Children about India’s transition to independence from British colonialism. When the Booker had its 40th Anniversary in 2008, an award was created as “The Best of the Booker;” Rushdie’s “Midnight Children” won this unique award. Then in 1993, another special award was created as “The Booker of Bookers Prize” for the best novel to win in the first twenty-five years of the list. This same Rushdie novel won yet again.

Australia’s Thomas Keneally won in 1982 for Schindler’s Ark about a German businessman who saved thousands of Polish Jews during the Holocaust by putting them to work in his factory. The movie version directed by Steven Spielberg was dubbed “Schindler’s List,” as was the US edition of the book. Later it was re-issued under that name in the Commonwealth countries.  Actors Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, and Caroline Goodall appeared in the film which won seven Academy Awards.

Britain’s Anita Brookner won for Hotel du Lac in 1984, telling of observations made by a romance novelist who goes to Lake Geneva to recuperate from lost love. The book was made into an award winning BBC TV play.

1985 was a good year for New Zealand’s Keri Hulme who had trouble finding a publisher but then won the Booker for her first novel The Bone People, an unusual love story filled with violence and fear that mixes Maori myth with Biblical characters. Three fiercely unique people, one an autistic orphan, conjure up the heritage and landscape of New Zealand as their lives are figuratively stripped to the bone.

Another winning novel made into a movie was the 1988 Booker Oscar and Lucinda by Australia’s Peter Carey. A young Anglican priest and an Australian heiress, both with gambling addictions, set out to deliver a glass church to an outback community. Ralph Finnes and Cate Blanchette played the lead roles. The book was considered (or shortlisted) for The Best of the Booker in 2008.

Originally from Japan but also a British citizen, Kazuo Ishiguro won in 1989 for his historical novel titled “The Remains of the Day,” recounting the loyalty and near love-affair of an butler in an upper class household in pre-World War II England. The film adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Christopher Reeve, and Huge Grant was nominated for eight Academy Awards.   

Jumping a few years to 2000, we find Canada’s Margaret Atwood on the list for “The Blind Assassin,” a complex story of two sisters spanning the twentieth century. A story-within-the-story unfolds and leaves the reader to learn which sister actually wrote of an extramarital affair.

Another Canadian and a first time author, Yann Martel won in 2002 for “Life of Pi,” a fantasy adventure novel depicting the endurance of an Indian boy’s 227-day sea voyage in a small boat with a Bengal tiger.

 Kiran Desai from India won the 2006 prize for her novel set in an Indian mountain village along the Nepal border, The Inheritance of Loss. Both the grandfather Judge educated in England and his teenage granddaughter live under the cloud of multiculturalism and the threat of political terrorism.

 Hilary Mantel from Britain won the 2009 award for Wolf Hall depicting the tumultuous court of King Henry VIII through the eyes of the low-born Thomas Cromwell.  The story mixes real history and descriptive fiction.

In case you found yourself grumbling that no American authors were on the Booker list, I have good news to share. Introduced only in the last seven years, The Man Booker International Prize has been established to highlight “one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. In seeking out literary excellence the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel.” A prize of £60,000 ($98,378) “is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language,” explains a Booker Foundation judge. There is no nationality requirement.

In 2005 the first Man Booker International Prize went to Albanian writer Ismail Kadare (several times nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Literature), next to Nigeran writer Chinua Achebe in 2007 (Now at Brown University, he is best known for his novel Things Fall Apart.), and in 2009 to Canadian Alice Munro (a short-story writer frequently on the Nobel Prize list).

Then, in May 2011 an American writer born in New Jersey who has stimulated and provoked readers for more than 50 years was honored with the Prize. Philip Roth received the Man Booker International Prize for his body of work, including Portnoy’s Complaint (1959), a Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral (1997) part of a trilogy, and The Human Stain (2000). The Chair of the Booker judging panel Rick Gekoski wrote that Roth “has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, but has also reanimated fiction.”

Roth’s most recent, short novel “Nemesis” (2010) is set in 1944 during a polio epidemic which ravages a Newark community, where twenty-three year old Bucky is a kind-hearted playground director but plagued by guilt. He struggles against the disease, his personal safety, and his ineligibility for the military — played against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Gekoski noted that Nemesis is “as fresh, memorable, and alive with feeling as anything [Roth] has written.” That said, Carmen Callil withdrew as one of the three judges, in protest over Roth as the 2011 winner.    

Booker Prize titles represent quality writing; and as Ion Trewin, Administrator of the Man Booker Prizes, has explained, “Whether you judge the prize by numbers of books sold, the number of films it has helped generate or the way it has opened our eyes to a range and quality of writing that might otherwise have been ignored,” the aim of the Bookers has been met.

But we still do not know who won this year’s Man Booker Prize. Those authors under consideration will be announced on September 6, 2011, and the winner will be named on October 16th. You may want to check the Man Booker Website to see the shortlist and make your own guess before the announcement.

Though summer reading is often “fluff,” taking a Booker title along for company may make for invigorating reading — either as an ebook or paper copy. See how many Booker Prize winners you may have already read or see what’s available electronically by visiting: .



A non-fiction writer, Judy Buswick has never been in contention for a Booker!  She is the author of “Slate of Hand: Stone for Fine Art and Folk Art” (Trafford Publishing, 2007) and is working on a biography of Massachusetts quilter Sally Palmer Field. Contact her at





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The Stanley Cup Comes to Lexington!

The Stanley Cup at Waxy O’Connors in Lexington!

Photos by Jim Shaw

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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

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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 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

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Current Issue

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November/December 2014

November/December 2014 Colonial Times Magazine

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Robert Pinsky to Appear in Lexington

By Laurie Atwater  |  A fierce advocate for poetry and spoken poetry, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will be coming to Lexington to help celebrate the launch of the latest book from the Student Publishing Program at Lexington High School, Unsaid: Poems from Lexington High School’s Class of 2013.

Photo of Robert Pinsky by Emma Dodge Hanson

The Student Publishing Program (SPP) at Lexington High School was created in 2002 by Lexington High School graduate Anthony Tedesco (LHS 1987).  Tedesco has dozens of projects and ideas in the air at any given time. His work can be found in Details magazine, Saturday Night Live, Boston Globe and the 2010 Sundance Award-Winning film, Homewrecker, and he’s director of The Greatest Living Writers Project which features exclusive video of poetry and best writing advice from over 500 of the world’s top poets.

Despite his busy schedule, Tedesco has consistently maintained his dedication to the Lexington High School project that he co-founded with Karen Russell, English teacher at Lexington High School.  Russell began teaching in Lexington in September of 1980 and has taught English, Social Studies, and Reading and Language within the Lexington Public Schools.  Together with an impressive advisory board, Tedesco and Russell have nurtured the Student Writing Program—even in the years they struggled for funds and published only online.

This year the SPP is excited to once again be in print thanks to the generosity of the William G. Tapply Memorial Fund.  Tapply, a member of the LHS Class of 1958, was a well-known outdoorsman and writer of both essays on fishing and two well-known mystery series.  Tapply taught in Lexington at the high school for 28 years, retiring as a “House Master” in 1990 to write full time.  Later in life he returned to teaching at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. and at Emerson College in Boston.  Tapply died in 2009.  His fellow classmates came together to create the fund in his honor.  Thanks to the gift from the Tapply fund and the Lexingtonians who have contributed to it, students will once again have the unique experience of seeing their work in print.

More than 500 pages, Unsaid would not be possible without the dedication of all the LHS sophomore English teachers who have supported students in submitting over 400 poems. Tedesco’s professional design creates a high quality platform that pays tribute to the students’ accomplished writing. The Student Publishing Program gives one hundred percent of profits from book sales back to LHS to fund future participation.

BOOK LAUNCH     On Tuesday, May 24th, the SPP in partnership with Craig Hall and Lexington Community Education will host a special program and fundraiser to celebrate the launch of Unsaid and to raise funds to support next year’s publication.  

The public is invited to attend this event and support the young writers who have conquered their fears and allowed their very personal poems to be included in the book.  Attendees will see the book for the first time, meet the student authors and hear the award-winning Lexington High School Jazz Combo during the reception.

The program will be emceed by Craig Hall, director of Lexington Community Education. Lexington residents will have the opportunity to hear students read selected poems from both this year’s publication and from upperclassmen who have contributed to previous online editions. The program will also feature readings by Lexington poet and Robert Frost Medal winner X.J. Kennedy.

ROBERT PINSKY     U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will talk about poetry and what it means to him and read from his latest book Selected Poems. Pinsky is an advocate for young writers and poetry. In 1997 Pinsky was named poet laureate and he served until 2000. During this very public phase of his career, Pinsky launched a great new project that he called The Favorite Poem Project.  Everyday folks were asked to submit their favorite poems and some of them were invited to read their poems as part of a permanent audio archive at the Library of Congress.  This “people’s project” connects to Pinsky’s beliefs about the need for poetry in a democracy and the value of the spoken word.

Pinsky currently teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Boston University and is poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate. He is a man of varied talents—translator, editor, multi-media innovator and teacher. He is the author of five books of poetry, four books of criticism and a computerized novel. He has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, Poetry magazine’s Oscar Blumenthal prize, the William Carlos Williams Award, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996) won the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Come and celebrate one of Lexington’s most worthy student endeavors, hear some great poetry and music and pick up the new book from LHS students.

Quotes About The Book And Its Publisher, The Student Publishing Program:

“These talented, imaginative young poets have made works using the always-fresh, always-unique, forever-new, yet ancient instrument of their voices. The individual voice is the instrument of poetry, an art that as this collection shows is on a human scale, individual and communal. I congratulate the writers, their teachers, and us their audience.” – ROBERT PINSKY, former U.S. Poet Laureate, professor in the graduate writing program at Boston University, Poetry Editor of the online magazine Slate, Advisory Board Member of The Student Publishing Program, and author of SELECTED POEMS.

“To any writer, writing always seems more a meaningful act if it results in publication. In bringing out UNSAID, Anthony Tedesco and the Student Publishing Program have accomplished something rare and valuable. This book and this program strike me, to the best of my knowledge, as the most remarkable gift to student writers that anyone has offered in America.” – X. J. KENNEDY, Lexington poet, winner of the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry, and author of In A Prominent Bar In Secaucus: New & Selected Poems.

“Words have great power. As School Committee Chair, I use words at the intersection of advocacy and policy. Sometimes, even advocating for the words that seem most meaningful and powerful at the policy level will influence the tone and meaning of all the words down the line. In a similar way, this poetry project has provided our students with an experience reflecting the power of their own words in meaningful expression.” – MARY ANN STEWART, Chairman, Lexington School Committee, Lexington Public Schools

Creating a portfolio of written pieces based on models of good writing sets student writers on a course that they navigate for themselves.  Teachers, then, have the opportunity to become active listeners to what each student feels is the composition to publish, to render explicit what was previously unsaid. – KAREN RUSSELL, Lexington High School Teacher, and founding teacher of The Student Publishing Program

What the students say:

“Being a part of this publication made me feel like I could share things that I can’t otherwise say.” AMBIKA JAYAKUMAR, LHS class of 2013

“I can’t begin to articulate how refreshing it is to have a teacher ask me for my own thoughts and writing I can truly call my own.” VERENA LUCKE, LHS class of 2013

“The poem project allowed us to stretch the boundaries of imagination, talking about things we would have never thought of sharing with anyone.” AISHANI PATWARI, LHS Class of 2013


Unsaid: LHS Sophomore Poetry Book & Launch Event

Tuesday, May 24, 7pm
LHS Auditorium 251 Waltham St., Lexington, MA

Readings by Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Robert-Frost-Medal-Winner X.J. Kennedy and a selection of LHS sophomores reading from their new book, Unsaid: Poems from Lexington High School’s Class of 2013, along with poetry from other classes and music by LHS’s award-winning jazz combo. The public is invited to come support them as student authors, as sons and daughters and friends, as young Lexingtonians, and perhaps most of all as unique, courageous individuals sharing what they’ve often been unable to say, offering glimpses at who they really are – in their own words.

For tickets, book pre-orders please visit or call 800-705-6551. Books ordered before May 24th can be purchased for $24; after May 24th books will sell for $34. Event tickets are $7 in advance; $10 at the door. LHS students admitted free with student ID.


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Youth Counseling Center


Join Us!The LYFS Open HouseSunday May 22nd, 1 to 3pmParker Hall, First Parish Church7 Harrington Road, Lexington, MA.There will be speakers, a power point, and a visit to the new LYFS office space.Please join us.For more information, email Bill Blout – bblout@LYFSinc.org781-862-0330As a non-profit, we are dependent on donations so we appreciate all contributions. Checks can be made out to: LYFS Inc., and send to 7 Harrington Rd, Lexington, MA 02420.  (781-862-0330)  

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