February 23, 2009

All in a Weeks Wanderings

Yet another Jamaica Pond photo
Let see, I usually start these with a weather report, so why buck tradition? I’ll try to keep it brief; actually for late February the weather has been pretty good. We had a nice warm spell that lasted about a week. Warm is a relative thing this time of the year, 40°F (15.5°C) does it for me. It was enough with the help of a little sun to melt most of the weeks old snow that was filling the sidewalks and streets. It is all gone except for a few piles in the shady regions. Those can be a little deceiving if they are covered with a layer of dirt and sand. If you step on them they still be very slippery. The cold temps have returned but with out the snow it is tolerable, and it hasn’t been quite as cold as it has been. It is surprising what a different 5 or 10 degrees can make when it is this cold.

Karate update: I am feeling better about the whole karate thing, we have been at it since September, and I am finally feeling I have at least a minimal proficiency at the basic moves or katas. A kata is a series of moves that demonstrates the blocks, kicks and punches of the given discipline. We are working on tow different ones, I was never good at remembering choreography, and from week to week, I seem to forget what I learned the week before. I am not the only one; I can see the other adult struggling as well. The kids on the other hand seem to pick them up very quickly. So much to my chagrin last week when I was asked to get up in front of our class and demonstrate my ability with one of the katas. I was pleased and surprised that I was able to get thru it with only minor mistakes. Something must be sinking in. Beyond practicing the katas, we also work on punches and kicks, the latter are quit popular because we get to let loose on the kick bags that out partners are holding, the object being to move them across the floor. We also do a little simple sparring with partners. The object is not to hit the other person, rather to block their punches and kicks. That results in no small amount of body contact particularly on the inner arm below the elbow, and bruises do occur. I don’t feel like I have had a good work out if I haven’t gotten one or tow bruises at least. Last week Mrs. Was sporting a number bruises to the degree that she wore long sleeves all week, as to not give her co-workers the wrong idea. Just as a not Mrs. and I make a point of NOT sparing with one another, it just seems like a good idea.

We had a little excitement Friday night. As I was driving home very near the house my cell phone rang, I didn’t recognize the number, but when I answered it, the boy’s voice was on the other end asking, “Dad can you pick me up?” Now that is an unusual call to get from the boy at any time, but particularly on a Friday night when he is supposed to be home from school. It turns out that he was calling from a friend’s house with whom he occasionally has get –together. I thought that he might have decided to go to Luke’s house after school and now needed a ride. That is unusual but not unheard of. Such was not the case, in fact what had happened is that he had gotten on the wrong city bus after his school bus had dropped him off at it’s usual. He rode the city buss for some time before he realized that it was not traveling the route that he knew. At that point he got off the bus, but he was unsure where he was. Can you say lost? Of course he had left his cell phone at home, and now his Transit pass had no money on it, and it was dark and cold on a Friday night. He wasn’t sure what to do. So he just stared flowing a large group of people who also got off the bus after walking a few blocks he recognized a church steeple that he remembered being nearby his friend’s house. After 20 minutes or so of wandering he found the house and knocked on the door. Fortunately they were home and were happy to help him out. When we arrived to pick him up he greeted us a little sheepishly. We didn’t have to talk to him too much about the ‘lessons’ that he should have learned by this incident. They imprinted pretty heavily on him. I think it really frightened him in a way that we could never impress upon him. (It frightened us a bit too, to be honest.) As we drove him home from his friends house (he lives barely two miles from us) the boy realized that had he turned the other way when he got off the bus, and walked a block or so he would have known where he was, and in spite of having no phone and no bus fare, he could have easily walked home.

We had a calm quiet evening at home after that, and I needed it for the busy weekend ahead, but more on that later ..

February 13, 2009


My muse Jamaicia Pond

I guess that it is time for an update.

We are in the middle of the annual mid winter melt. I have been waiting for this for a few weeks. It usually happens in late January but it isn’t unusual for it to take place in February. It is generally about a week of unseasonably warm weather in the middle of the winter deep freez. This one has been relatively mild, with temps getting into the 50’s but it has been long lived the results being that the majority of the snow has melted. The 2 and 3 foot high snow banks along the sidewalks have vanished in a matter of a couple of days, and features in the yard, unseen for months have reappeared. Of course with the melt come the downside, not to be negative here, but what remains after al the snow melts is not a pretty sight especially after a cold and snowy winter like we have had. Like long gone glaciers, the receding snow banks leave a layer of dirt, sand and other debris in their wake. I don’t know which is worst to look at the dirt blackened snow banks or the layer of dirt and trash on the sidewalks and street. I am happy to see the snow gone though, and the slightly warmer weather in a relief as well. Now the furnace doesn’t run nearly constantly, waking me in the middle of the night each time it turns on. The cold and snow will most likely be back but for now I am not complaining. Spring is just a few weeks away. Ok more like 5 weeks, but it is light when I leave work in the evenings these days, that too is a good sign.

For the most part we have just sort of been hunkered down and getting thru the winter for the last couple weeks. The boy of course seems to take most of our attention and energy. Being 13 as he is, there is sort of a constant level of ‘tude that he gives us. He is doing pretty well in school, although it seems like he can’t quite keep up his grades in all subjects at once. Generally he is a B student; that seems to be as much work, as he wants to put into his studies in spite of our chiding and coaxing. At the same time inevitably on subject will get lost in the shuffle and his grades will drop for a while. We push in that and something else then falls behind. As it is we have added more guitar lessons for him. A neighbor is jazz and rock musician and teaches on the side. The boy has been saying that he is bored with playing classical guitar, and he is in jazz band which has opened up other styles and elements of playing for him, so adding this lesson seemed like the thing to do. It is only $20 for an hour lesson, and after the first one last Sunday the boy came away saying that his fingers hurt, but he had learned some good stuff. You would think that we were trying to turn him into a musician or something.

Both Mrs. and the boy are big Sci-Fi fans; I am too, but not quite to the degree that they are. We have all 10 seasons of Stargate on DVD, and a few seasons of Stargate Atlantis as well. The latest acquisition is the first couple of seasons of Babylon 5 a series that was on the air in the mid 90’s. I was never that fond of that particular series, the writing is stilted and the acting is wooden, or is it the other way around? The only interesting characters and decent actors are the ones who play the aliens. They have a tendency to over act, but that is more interesting than watching the stage timber that play the earthlings. Anyway, mother and the boy have been devouring the episodes. Fortunately or not, they don’t play well in the DVD player connected to the TV, so they have been playing them on their respective laptops. That last few nights as I have sat down at my desk in the evening I can hear the audio tracks from both of their computers as they play the DVD’s. I just turn up the iTunes on my own computer to drown them out, while they bliss out on Babylon.

I have been thinking lately about starting another blog about music, or just start blogging here. Like I barely have time to write here, huh? Since I was a lad of 10 or 11 and got my first crystal radio, I have been listening to and collecting music. My tastes are definitely not mainstream, and might best be described as eclectic. There are any number of artists and performers who interest me, and It might be interesting to write about what draws me to them and sharing that. I have been exploring how to share music through the blog. We will see how that develops..

The latest progress on the construction.

February 8, 2009

Preservation Blues: or a Digression on Local History

Preface: The following entry has been perking in my head and on my flash drive for over a week. What was going to be the usual ramble about the week’s events but somehow morphed into a little bit of a local history essay. I have become quite interested in the history of my immediate neighborhood, and I think this may be the first essay looking into the history of a particular building or event in the neighborhood.


I skipped karate last week to attend a community meeting regarding historic preservation of the neighborhood. It was sponsored by the local community center up the street, and in addition to being attended by a good representation of neighbors, also present were representatives from several local and state wide historic preservation organizations. The purpose of the meeting was twofold; to give the residents tools to help preserving their own homes, but also to look to preserving some historic structures in the neighborhood that are in danger.

This part of Roxbury known now as Highland Park has a unique place in Boston and architectural history. First settled in 1630, at the same time as Boston, it was the next stop on the road out of Boston which was then a narrow peninsula. Roxbury was the first high ground and a commerce center and cross roads to points north, south and west. By both luck and effort it now contains houses from every period from the mid 18th century on.

The neighborhood has had an interesting history. It spent its first hundred years as a quite farming village located at a cross roads for the main roads out Boston to places like New York and points north. Briefly during the revolution it held an important position as the location of two military earthwork forts overlooking Boston during the British Occupation, some of which you can read about in William McCullough’s book 1776. From the late 18th and into the early 19th century it was mostly farmland, orchards actually. Both the Bartlett Pear and the Roxbury Russet Apple are claimed to have been developed here. The soil wasn’t really good for vegetable farming the salient feature to the land in ‘rocks bury’ is the abundance of Roxbury Puddingstone that is just below a thin layer of soil and makes up most of the highlands. In the 1830’s and 40s’ a number of estates erected in the area by prominent Bostonians, notably Alvah Kittredge, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and author and chaplain of the US Senate, Edward Everett Hale. Their houses still exist today.

After the Civil War, the neighborhood began to change dramatically; the large estates were broken up and divided for housing. The construction of the Cochituate Standpipe in 1869 brought abundant water to the area, along with annexation into the city of Boston, brought services and utilities to the neighborhood that the lack of had hindered growth before. A building boom took place in the 1870’s when numerous brick brownstones were constructed along with other forms of single and multi-family houses. The growth and economic stability maintained into the early part of the 20th century. Around the time of WW- Roxbury started to become the center of the African American community in Boston adding to the already broad mixture of Irish, German and Jewish population.

The neighborhood continued to thrive until the 1960s, when demographic changes and white flight hit Boston like many other cities, and the affluent middle-class left the cities for the suburbs. The neighborhood suffered the same blight of many inner-city neighborhoods across the country. It was ignored by the city and redlined by banks and Roxbury became the de facto black ghetto in Boston, notorious to the degree that it earned a mention in Randy Newman 1974 song ‘Rednecks.’ Plagued by drugs and gangs at it’s low point the neighborhood had a occupation rate of barely 30%, every block was lined by abandoned buildings and the night was often illuminated by fires and the abandoned house burned. The sense of abandonment by the City of Boston the residents of Roxbury reached its zenith in 1986 when the residents petitioned to incorporate as a separate city named Mandela. The petition was defeated, but in the early 90’s a coalition of ministers, police and city officials formed to fight the drug and gang problem, and amazingly were successful to the degree that it was called the Boston Miracle. That, the economic boom of the 90’s, and a general movement of populations back to the cities help bring people back to the area.

When we moved here in the spring of 2001, the neighborhood had begun to stabilized and had begun to grow again. We didn’t know the history of the neighborhood at the time; our choice of places to live was based on character, convenience and price. But for me it was a wonderful surprise when I began to learn the history of the surrounding neighborhood.

So going to this meeting was a one more stop on learning about the local history, and giving me a chance to invest in preserving some of that history as well. The various preservation organization, offered a variety of information and tools for saving some of the more endangered buildings in the neighborhood. And it was enlightening to hear the stories of some of the neighbors who had lived their whole lives here and how the neighborhood had changed and how the residents had survived over the years. A lot of time was spent discussing what we as a neighborhood could do for some specific properties that are privately owned, but are neglected and in immediate danger. Someone brought out copies of a study that had been done 10 years before on the neighborhood outlining the efforts that had been taken up to that time and designating the 10 most endangered dwellings in the neighborhood. Much to my surprise our house had been one of them. In the intervening time one of the structures have been lost, 6 have been restored or rehabilitated, and 3 remain in danger.

The one that everyone was most concerned about is the Alvah Kittredge House. Built about 1836 by one of the individuals who were instrumental in the development of the Highland Park neighborhood. The neoclassical centerpiece of what was once a large estate, it later belonged to Nathaniel J. Bradlee, renowned architect known and the ‘Builder of Boston’ and was responsible for a variety of important buildings through out Boston. That the house has survived nearly 200 years in itself is amazing. The estate was broken up and sold after Bradlee's death in 1888 and the house was reduced in size and moved to face a side street were it has served as a private residence, a rooming house, and most recently the headquarters of Roxbury Action Program, a community organization that was instrumental in preventing the neighborhood from being torn down in the 70’s for Urban renewal. Unfortunately the house proved to be too expensive for them to maintain and has been vacant for about 15 years. And so it sits, decaying even though it is on the National Register Historic places since 1973.

We came to no conclusions in the meeting, and no specific plans of action were arrived at, but a renewed energy and focus was found. We will be meeting again in a few weeks to take the next step in generating those plans and focus.