Follow Ups

So my last three blog posts (that were more than “Sorry. Busy.”) were on:
1) Bicycles
2) Not having pockets and the smartphone problems therein
3) Camping on Memorial Day

You all had amazing advice, particularly on the phone thing. I have updates to all of these topics (and the one blog post I have an idea about writing requires insane things like “research” and “work” and “advanced planning” and this is my to do list for this weekend):

Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.
Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.

You will note “pictures for blog post” remains suspiciously unchecked. So updates it is.

1) Bicycles
When last updated you, I was on the verge of taking Grey (and myself, for that matter) on our very first actual bike trail. We were graduating from parking lots.

It was awesome!!!

Breakheart has a two mile paved loop trail, with no vehicles. Perfect, I thought. And it was perfect. Grey and I got on our bikes and got going! He did his first downhill, his first uphill. He discovered why we have gears. But Breakheart was wicked hilly and neither one of us could make it up most of them without walking the bikes – which we did. The downhills scared the pants off me, because I have crashed. (I wasn’t 100% convinced that he really understood that he could get hurt doing this.) But we did the loop TWICE and he LOVED it!

The whole week he kept asking to go bikeriding again, and talked non-stop about it. Thane, who had become rather skeptical of this whole bi-cyclical method of transportation, was given a motivation to improve. And improve he did. He really got it! So the next step was clearly to do a whole family bike ride.

Two problems:
1) Adam didn’t have a bike
2) There was no way Thane could do Breakheart Reservation

So…. it was just about Father’s Day. And every dad wants a bike for his celebration, right? Right? That Saturday we kitted out Adam to get ready to riiiiide. And then I went looking for a really nice safe offroad trail and found the Independence Greenway (which is very similar to what our Greenway will be, with a 50″ clearance and 10″ paved section). We figured out how to (kind of) load our bikes into a vehicle and went for a Father’s Day ride.

The family that rides together learns first aid together.

It was super perfect. The trail was exactly the right level of difficulty for beginning riders. (eg. none) We had an amazingly awesome hour together. As we were coming back, Grey was getting fancier with his moves and finally found the limit of the turning radius of the bike. He came down hard. I got to him fast (we’d had the forethought to bring an extensive first aid kit). His elbow looked pretty bad – a fun color of purple, bleeding significantly from three separate scrapes. I figured out it wasn’t broken, but I knew it would still hurt. I bandaged him up, heart in my throat. Once he’d gotten his breath back, I leveled with him.

“Grey, I’m so sorry you got hurt. I know that has to feel badly. The truth of the matter is that sometimes when you ride your bike, you fall off and it hurts a lot. It’s kind of part of being a bike rider.”

“Mom,” he turned his teary face to me, “I have no regrets about being a bike rider. I’m going to get back up and keep riding, even if I get injured.”

My son has not always been an exemplar of resilience in the face of pain or challenge. It might be the thing in life he’ll need to work hardest on. But this day he got back on his bike, arm sticking out awkwardly wrapped in layers of tape, and rode to the end of the trail. He told his father later, “Dad, every time my arm hurts, I feel proud of myself.” Me too, kiddo. Me too.

So bike riding. It seems like it might be a thing for us now.

2) First World Problems
I wrote a really whiny post about how I don’t have pooooooockets in my dresssssses and how am I supposed to carry my phooooooone?!!? You guys gave me very excellent advice. (This might also be the #1 post in several years for having people stop me personally to talk it through with me.)

I ordered about 6 different solutions, and finally settled on an adequate two part strategy:

Case solved
Case solved

The easiest and most efficacious was a simple case with a lanyard. (Lanyard sold separately.) I’ve never used a case before because they’ve been bulky, but this one is very slim and attractive and allows me to carry the phone on my wrist. Problem largely solved.

For no pocket days...
For no pocket days…

I went to Etsy to help me solve the problem with no pocket days and returned almost exactly what I was looking for. Phone holder with clear pocket for ID and lanyard connections. (Lanyard – again – sold separately.) This is more or less what I was trying to articulate. I had thought I could hook it up to the zippy thingy that clips to your clothes, but the phone is too heavy and pulls it out. Other than that, it works fine.

Problem solved.

Well, mostly. I’m due for a new phone upgrade. I really wanted the Galaxy S5 mini for reasons of size and battery life. But Verizon (curse you!) doesn’t carry it. So now I don’t know what I want.

3) Camping on Memorial Day
You’ll be pleased to hear that my update on this is not novella length. Instead I offer you pictures of the occasion! We’re headed out again soon for more adventures!

Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

On Tuesday, April 7th 2015, Stoneham Voters will head to the ballots to select our town’s leaders. If my engagement with the Bikeway has shown anything, it’s shown how critical great town leadership is to improve the experience of living here.

[10/18/2016 10:11 pm: If you have found this site in your quest to make up your mind about which is a better candidate for State Representative, Mike Day or Caroline Colarusso, I strongly endorse Mike Day – both because of his excellent track record of making positive contributions to the local community in his first term, and because of the negativity and nastiness Caroline has brought to this campaign.]

[3/26/2015 10:39 pm: Edited to remove “pros” from Caroline Colarusso that are also shared by Erin Sinclair – see comments for details.]

Recommendations

Town Moderator: Lawrence (Larry) Means

Stoneham Selectman (2 slots):
1) Thomas Boussy
2) Caroline Calorusso

No recommendation (advise me!):
– Constable
– Housing Authority
– Planning Board

One of the great challenges I’ve realized lately is how hard it is to get information and form an informed opinion on local politics. There’s very little easily available information. If you don’t know where to go for what information there is, the problem is worse. This means that new folks to town, or people who aren’t amazingly well connected, either don’t vote, or don’t cast a knowledgeable vote on the election that may have the most impact on how they live. Will the town have a bikeway, or not? Will we bring more people to our downtown, or not? Do we build affordable housing, or do we lose some of our autonomy and have state oversight to guarantee we have affordable housing? How do we balance our tax base, infrastructure needs, education spending and other services? It’s local officials who decide those key issues.

I had tried to figure out how I’m voting in this upcoming election. The Selectman’s race is particularly a difficult one for me. I’ve had some personal conversations with some folks in Stoneham about who they’re voting for, and why. I should mention that my thoughts below are my private opinion, and not as well informed as I’d like it to be. I’m certainly open to corrections, amendments or additional thoughts from you – or the candidates – about the elements I’m thinking about. I really wish there were an independent, clear, easily accessible voter’s guide for Stoneham voters. As far as I know, that doesn’t exist. This isn’t that – this is my opinion.

The selectman’s race was one I thought a lot about. It’s a crappy job. It pays something like $3000 a year, requires considerable time and effort, and brings with it a ton of aggravation and abuse. One has to think through the motivations for why you’d do it. Idealism? Service? Love of power? Love of attention? Desire to change the town? Desire to help your friends? Family habit? Greater political ambitions?

Tom Boussy
Tom is the one candidate for Selectman I feel I can wholeheartedly endorse. Tom worked very hard on the Bikeway (before we brought 800 people to a town meeting to forcefully exert the will of the people). He’s energetic and enthusiastic about making the town a more awesome place to live. Tom and Anne Marie O’Neill represent the forward-thinking contingent of the selectmen (you know – the ones who DIDN’T vote against the Bikeway in the October meeting.) I feel like his motivations have to do with an energetic enthusiasm for the town.

The second selectman vote has been hard hard hard for me to decide. Frankly, I don’t like any of my option. There was a second vote (Devon Manchester) whom I was excited about. I heard (admitted hearsay!) that he withdrew because the State Republican Party told him if he opposed Caroline Colarusso they’d never support him again. I resent having my choices limited for me like that.

Robert Sweeney
I quickly ruled out Bob Sweeney as a choice. He’s definitely been one of the folks who has never taken a public stand against the bikeway, but quietly worked to make sure it didn’t happen. (Someone had to be working hard to make sure it didn’t happen!) He has been dismissive of other voices in the community, and has a tendency not to show up for his duties. He didn’t even show up for the televised Candidate Forum. No, thank you.

So now I’m down to two, and I have a number of pros and cons for each.

Caroline Colarusso
Pros:
– Spent time on the finance board, which is another thankless task

Neutral:
– Given the number of elections, it’s clear that she sees selectwoman as a step on a larger political path. On one hand, that means she’ll be posturing to make herself look good for the next run. On the other hand, it gives her a motivation to show up and do work.

Negative:
– I dislike that (assuming what I heard is correct) she used her position with the state party to remove competition in the race
– I am not sure she’ll be a strong advocate for new residents in Stoneham
– She keeps talking about taxes instead of services or growth

Erin Sinclair
Pros:
– Not an incumbent

Negative:
– She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve [ed. 3/26 see her note in the comment regarding this]. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.
– She’s also a salaried town employee. That seems like a conflict of interests that would require special handling.
– When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

Larry Means – Town Moderator
From what I’ve seen, Larry has done a good job in a very thankless job. His opponent has a platform of making passive aggressive jabs at Larry, and then not showing up for voter information forums. Not impressive. So I’m ready to vote for Larry!


So that’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback. Who are you thinking of? Why? What did I get wrong? What resources did I miss that a Stonehamite should know about? How are you making your decision? Who do you recommend for the races I don’t have an opinion on?

Resources:
– Here’s a copy of the ballot for April 7th: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/sites/stonehamma/files/file/file/april_7_annual_election_ballot_proof.pdf
– A number of the candidates did an hour long interview with Stoneham TV. Not mind blowing, but it gives you a good perspective on how they think on their feet (and who cares enough to show up): http://stonehamtv.org/ondemand

Two decades of building a bikeway

Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen
Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Back in 1988, a few folks had an idea about turning an old rail line in Stoneham into a trail. It was a cutting edge idea, at the time – the rails to trails projects were just kicking off. But the land was publicly owned, and it seemed like a good idea. Twenty-seven years later, the plan has final cleared (almost) all the hurdles required to break ground. My own part in this saga was trivial from that big picture perspective, but it was extremely illuminating for me.

Looking from the outside in, it can be awfully hard to get a hook into local politics. For example, googling my selectmen before a vote revealed… pretty much nothing (fun fact – my blog posts are like time 20 hits on nearly all of them). You can find some general information on what they do for a living. One or two of them have campaign pages, which reveal, well, nothing. Without a hook into the community, it’s hard to tell the obstructionists from the development-happy, the cooperators from the blockers, the sensible from the selfish. It’s almost impossible to educate yourself to vote responsibly when neither you nor anyone you know has any insight into these candidates.

Then came the Greenway. This project was so incredibly clear cut, I didn’t need a 20 year Stoneham veteran to explain the ins and outs to me. The pro was that we had an amazing project on public land paid for by state funds and sponsored by MassDOT. On the opposing side we had… uh…. safety concerns (which were bogus – the crossings will be much safer with the new work to be done) and uh… … The funny thing was that despite voting down a delay of a vote, and then voting down the initiative in the October meeting, no one could or would articulate a real & compelling reason why they didn’t think Stoneham should have this awesome amenity. The reasons, I believe, were all buried in relationships, history and some selfishness on the parts of the businesses who had been using the land for years with little or minimal compensation to the public. (I’m left to speculate. Anyone who’d prefer to explain the real reason is free to leave a comment!)

So in this complex community, I finally had a touchpoint. Using information available to me, I could see that the Greenway was good. This provided me the entryway into understanding more about the town. My involvement started out very lightly. In 2011 I walked the Greenway route. In May of 2013 I wrote about the project. In a sign of my outsiderness, I tried to reach out to the Selectmen using the publicly available contact information (which was rather unsuccessful). Then this fall, at the request of a friend, I went to the Town Hall meeting where the vote was both delayed and denied.

I was shocked into action. The excuses for failure were SO LAME. And they looked very much like they were going to successfully kill the project. I spoke at the meeting, and came to the attention of the advocates. Coming back from that meeting, I wrote a letter to the local newspapers. I reached out to the supporters, and helped collect signatures for a special town hall meeting. I engaged in the ad hoc group that pushed to get out the vote over a one month period. I walked door to door with my kids. I cold called 200 likely voters (a more pleasant experience than usual, based on the fact that 99.8% of the town thought the Greenway was a great idea). I called for the vote in the special Town Hall meeting, packed to the gills with hundreds of usually unheard residents who had answered our calls to support the project.

The townhall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end
The Town Hall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

My portion of the effort was definitely at the eleventh hour and much less than that of others, but when the time came for drinks afterwards, I got the invite. I sat at a table of people who had poured years, tens of thousands of dollars and their hearts and souls into making the town a better plan to live, with no ulterior motivation. There was elation. There was exhaustion. There was a vague sense of unease that the opposition might find one more thing we hadn’t known about or thought about to block the project. I looked at those people, still struggling to put faces and names together, and settled into my place in the community.

Many things have come from this effort. The largest, of course, is that we now have a Greenway (assuming nothing bad happens from here on out). We have invited many residents of Stoneham to their first ever Town Hall meeting – hopefully some number of them become more engaged in guiding our community. I hope that the older entrenched interests in the town have realized that there are many more people in Stoneham than the handful of hundred who have historically done so much for the community, and that our planning needs to take both new and old residents into consideration. And I – I hope that I and my neighbors become more engaged in the town. Finally, enduringly, I have made some new friends in this adventure, who may be my friends in this great town for years to come.

What about you? Do you understand how your town ticks? Are you a voter? How do you figure out how to vote on local issues? How does a stranger come to become a local in your community?

Update on the Stoneham Greenway!

Last night Grey and I got to join a lot of other families in town on our local tv station talking about what the Greenway means to me. Those fresh, young faces really helped remind me what this project is about: doing something awesome to make our town an even better place to live. Check out the video!

For those of you who are dying for more details on exactly where the project stands, what it does (and exactly how much of Rec park would be impacted), the Greenway Site has an excellent update you should review!

I’m excited to work with so many great, excited people to make this happen!

Brenda Flynn

Stoneham – Tri Community Greenway

For those of you who do not leave in Eastern Massachusetts, you now have my permission to skip this post.

Those of you who live in the greater Boston area – not so fast.

This amazing tunnel runs under I93 and connects the communities.

I live in Stoneham – a small town that happens to be 11 miles from the soaring skyline of Boston. My community was hit hard by both September 11th and the Marathon bombings, but it’s generally a quiet place. I really enjoy living here. I have phenomenal neighbors. The schools are (so far) excellent. I can walk to just about anything worth walking to, including a used book store and a theater. (In the sadly lacking department, I CANNOT walk to good coffee. Woe!) Just yesterday, we had the annual Stoneham Town Day where the entire town turned out wearing their Stoneham gear and bounced in bouncy houses, painted faces, raised awareness and hung out.

A hundred years ago, my community – like so many others – had a railway running through it for local deliveries. Again, following the pattern, with the rise of the car the railway fell into disuse. Now in the 21st century, we’d like to reclaim our right of way and build a bike path alone the publicly owned lands. This is FANTASTIC. It will connect our community to two neighboring communities, going under the freeway. (I wrote about the really neat freeway underpass here.)

The project – the Tri Community Greenway – has been in progress for longer than some voters have been alive. But it’s ALMOST THERE. Here’s what they’ve accomplished:

  • Almost all the route has been planned, with official plans accepted by Mass DOT.
  • The bikeway has obtained legal rights to the land with a 99 year lease from the MTA. All previous leasees’ leases have expired and the land is now legally free and clear for the public good of Stoneham.
  • With one exception (we’ll get to that in a moment), every business who had previously been using the public land has created and executed a plan to get the bikeway through the route. Special thanks to companies like Cleveland Fence who worked hard and negotiated in good faith to make it happen.
  • Most critically, the Bikeway has obtained federal funding for construction for 2014. Seriously, people, they can break ground before my kid hits third grade.

Of course, there’s one catch. One person has decided their driveway is more important than an entire community’s needs, and despite many good faith efforts by the Greenway committee, this person is refusing to move the 500 trucks worth of fill they put ON PUBLIC LAND and is now trespassing. They have been served with an eviction notice. I have to admit that it makes me really angry to think of one person ignoring both legal and moral obligations, who is willing to destroy a project that will serve the people of the community their business is in.

So… what can we do? First, there is a meeting of the Stoneham Board of Selectman on Tuesday, September 10th 2013. I intend to be there – with my children – to let the Selectmen of Stoneham know how important their leadership on this issue is to me, and to my community. This is not a project that needs you to open your wallet (see also: federal funding!). This is a project that needs you to use your voice to make sure that the community comes together to push it across the finish line.

You can find contact information for the Stoneham Board of Selectman here: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/board-of-selectmen – let them know what you think! You can also find WAY MORE details about the greenway here, including the published plans, a map of the final route, the history of the project and community, and tons of pictures.


For your voting reference, I have also sent an email to every single one of the Selectmen, letting them know about my feelings on the topic. I’m including the replies below! I sent them all emails on 9/8/13 at 7:45 pm.

Ann Marie O’Neill – 8:50 pm 9/8/13

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for making your voice heard. The bike path is important not only because it will be a good asset for Stoneham, but also because bringing the citizens of Stoneham out to demand action from their leaders represents a major policy shift. We deserve better and we have been over looked for too long. Thank you for getting involved and thank you for encouraging your friends to speak out as well. If you are able to come to Tuesday’s meeting please introduce yourself. One of the most rewarding aspects of this role has been to meet my neighbors.

Thank you,
Ann Marie

Robert Sweeney – Chairman – 8:30 am 9/9/13

i support the bikepath always have feel free to call me

Thomas Boussy – Vice Chairman

Strong Greenway supporter.

John Depinto – no response yet
Sent second request on 9/28/2014 11:20 am

Frank Vallarelli – no response yet
Send second request on 9/28/2013 11:25 am