News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective


My long daily commute (55 minutes each way to Concord, NH) has led me to adopt a strategy of “hypermiling.” I don’t have a Prius, and the rising price of gas has made my weekly stops to fill the tank somewhat painful, not to mention the guilt over my carbon footprint. Hypermiling has become a way to mitigate these feelings and add a fun daily challenge. I generally get 21 to 24 miles per gallon when driving around Lowell, but by going 55 mph on the highway, I’ve managed to achieve an average of 29 miles per gallon. No doubt my fellow commuters are annoyed as they barrel past me, but I stay in the right lane and slow down to let others zip ahead of me when merging onto the road. An additional benefit is that I have become a much less aggressive driver. I don’t feel the need to pass or cut off other drivers, and my long drive has actually become a calming ritual, where I drink coffee, listen to audio books or Spanish tapes, and eventually arrive at work in a mellow frame of mind.

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Tyler Park – Tonight!

It looks like a beautiful night for an outdoor concert at Tyler Park, the jewel of the Highlands. Beginning at 6:00 pm with local Funk band, Jochemo, and continuing with the popular acoustic guitar duo, Take Two, from 7:00 – 8:00 pm, the Friends of Tyler Park also provide fun family activities, balloons, popcorn, hotdogs and more. The concerts are FREE and lots of fun for all. Bring a blanket or a chair and enjoy the evening.

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Summer Afternoon

Has June this year been too beautiful? What is, after all, “so rare as a day in June..then, if ever, come perfect days.” These words come to mind when viewing cloudless blue skies, rosebushes in bloom, along with daylilies, peonies, pinks and more. The poet who penned that perfect phrase, followed by “Then heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, and over it softly her warm ear lays” was James Russell Lowell, in case you were wondering. I think I think those words every year, in June, yet never knew who wrote them. Other poets I think of in summer include Virgil: “Steep thyself in a bowl of summertime.”; or the very early English verse, “Summer is Icumen in,” or Marvell who advocated: “Annihilating all that’s made; to a green thought in a green shade”, or the novelist, Henry James, who said, “Summer afternoon–summer afternoon…the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Hope you’re all enjoying your summer!

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Doing one’s civic duty

I spent the day at the World Trade Center in Woburn yesterday as I was called for Jury Duty. The last time I had to show up was several years ago, and the experience this time was quite a bit different. Previously, I had to drive to Cambridge, pay for parking and be shuffled around through tiny, antiquated rooms by a seemingly incompetent guard or bailiff. It got to be a bit of a joke as our group was sent here and there as if they didn’t quite know what to do with us–finally, they just sent us home. The new courthouse in Woburn is modern and comfortable and they seem to have the system well-calibrated as groups are called to courtrooms, then returned to the pool if not selected for a case. The parking is ample and free and there is easy access from route 128. One flaw is that there is no cafeteria in the building so we had to go in and out of security to go to the one cafe for lunch. My other complaint is the air-conditioning; it was freezing in the courtroom. They now show a video about how important it is to be there with Chief Justice Marshall assuring us that we were not wasting our day! Since Massachusetts has adopted the “one day, one trial” system, those not chosen for a case had satisfied their obligation for the next three years.

My randomly-generated juror number was relatively high, so I wasn’t chosen for a case until late in the morning. Then, it was complex case that was projected to last awhile. People chosen for the case looked glum. The juror selection process went on for the whole day. At the last minute, I was let go. I guess I’m glad, but I think it would be interesting to be a juror–maybe in another three years…

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Checking the list to make merry

Like some of you, I’ve been struggling to get my act together for the holidays and I’m taking a minute here to think about my list. First off, we created and sent out about 350 cards, which included the stamping, stuffing and addressing that goes along with it. Check. Then we focused on dusting off this big old house for a bit of much-needed cleaning and clutter control. Check. Third, we chose a tree, cleared space in front of the big window for placement, and decorated it, along with four floors worth of lights, greenery and purple bows, balls, and ribbons. Check. Not to be forgotten in this effort to be merry is the huge amount of cooking and baking I’ve been doing for days: two kinds of lasagnas, breads, cookies, and all things cranberry (my theme this year). Check. And of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t have gifts for loved ones; in my case, that means a lot of “thought gifts” for siblings and friends, which are usually homemade and edible. My kids are older now, so instead of toys, they wanted electronics, the latest fashion styles, and other expensive items that required trips to the mall and online price/availability comparisons. Bought and wrapped. Check. Now that it is Christmas Eve, the real holiday begins for me tonight when we attend the annual candlelight service at our church—a tradition that carries through my entire life. There is nothing like singing Silent Night with a community of people each holding a single, lit candle. It is visual and spiritual, and amid the frenetic pace of our lives, it is magnificent to share the simple pleasure of light and music with others. After the service, we’ll go back to our newly cleaned house alight with candles and greenery for some food and cheer. The air will be brisk on the drive home, the snow still white, and the lights on the houses will warm my heart. Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. Wishing you and yours a very merry one!

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A X-Country Ski Outing

Today, I joined friends on a drive to Windblown, a x-country ski center in New Ipswich, NH, just over the Massachusetts border somewhere west of Townsend. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, but we were hopeful that the conditions would be good for our first ski-outing of the season, and we weren’t disappointed. The parking lot was full, so I was afraid that the trails would be crowded, but once we got out we rarely saw more than 2 or 3 other skiers at a time. With 25 miles of trails, there is plenty of room to spread out! It was moderately hilly, which gave us a good workout, and we enjoyed a great view of Mt. Monadnock after one of the steeper climbs. Windblown is a small, family-run business that has been in operation since 1972. They have a friendly, relaxed style; a comfortable lodge with both a woodstove and a fireplace; and plenty of space for enjoying a picnic lunch – all for $16 a person ($10 for students, children under 8 can ski free). I was left wondering why I had never heard of this place before today, but now that I’ve experienced Windblown, I’m definitely going back.

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Great play – great gift idea from MRT

I made it to Heroes, the current offering from the Merrimack Rep, just in the nick of time as it closes tomorrow with a sold-out show. As Jackie said, it was delightful and heartwarming, although it kind of tapered off at the end. After being a subscriber for over 10 years, I miss going to the MRT, so I was glad I made it this afternoon, especially after enjoying an impromput wine tasting at Tutto Bene (I would link to them but they don’t seem to have a website) beforehand. If you are also a lapsed MRT play-goer or need a great gift for a theater-loving friend, you might check their website for some great deals on the rest of the season. I got a flex-pass for $100, which gives me 4 tickets to use anytime for any play (gift cards are also available). I used one of my tickets today to see Heroes and it was well worth it. I am looking forward to the rest of the season which includes a new Richard Dresser play (I may have to use two tickets for that one). January’s play, Fabuloso, looks zany and fun, perfect for a dull winter evening. I was reminded today of how lucky we are to have great theater right here in Lowell, minutes from home, with no parking or traffic woes!

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School Committee meets tonight

Tonight, the Lowell School Committee meets in Council Chambers, beginning at 7 p.m. and televised live on LTC cable station 10. The meeting will include a Spotlight on Excellence regarding the third year of the Summer Reading Program. Participating students read every day this summer and kept a reading journal, resulting in a total of 13,138 books read by Lowell students in grades K-8. The participating students at tonight’s meeting were chosen by raffle to represent their schools and receive a $25 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble. Tonight’s agenda also includes an update from the superintendent on plans to offer early release at elementary and middle schools for professional development, subcommittee reports, as well as two motions by me, one by John Leahy, and one by Jim Leary.

My motions are: 1. Request the Superintendent work with city youth providers to develop ways to collaborate and make use of the Rogers School as a community center. 2. Request the Superintendent make recommendations regarding the use of biodegradable throwaway materials in our school food program, rather than Styrofoam, as well as the potential benefits and drawbacks of switching back to reusable items wherever possible. John Leahy’s motion: “The Superintendent send a letter of appreciation to Brenda Costello from the Committee for all the work she has done over the past few years for the Lowell High School Scholarship Foundation.” And Jim Leary’s motion: “Request the Superintendent and the Curriculum Subcommittee review the School Committee’s policy as it relates to the age students start school. The focus reflects students from outside the Lowell Public School entering our system and are forced to repeat kindergarten or any other grade that have already successfully passed due strictly to the existing age policy.”

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Gospel and Goodwill at St Anne’s

If you’re not going to the Pats game and are looking for an uplifting activity for Sunday Saturday, you could listen to glorious music in support of a great cause by going down to St Anne’s Episcopal Church from noon – 2:00 pm to hear our own Lura Smith in a Southern Gospel Concert. Lura will be joined by guest artists including Michael Lally, Founder and Director of local favorites, the SRO Players. The suggested donation is $20 per person, payable at the door, with all proceeds going to Prevent Homelessness in the Merrimack Valley. If you haven’t been to one of Lura Smith’s Gospel concerts, you owe it to yourself to get down to St Anne’s tomorrow; you’ll be glowing with goodwill and friendship when you leave, and you can probably still make it home by half-time.

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The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail will officially open this Saturday! I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think I’d live to see the day. We finally have a local bike trail! Of course, this stretch, 6.8 miles from Lowell to Westford, is only Phase 1, and it took 25 years from the original vision of Chelmsford state Rep Bruce Freeman, now deceased, to the ribbon-cutting ceremony this Saturday. In the Boston Globe today, you can read about the original vision as well as the obstacles (mostly funding) that have slowed the trail’s progress. On Saturday, you can join the hardworking, dedicated Friends of the Bruce Freeman Trail at 10 am at the Chelmsford Old Town Hall to celebrate this long-awaited occasion. Here’s the offical announcement from Friends’ President Richard Williamson:

On Saturday, August 29, after more than 24 years of planning, working, and waiting, the 6.8-mile section of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail from Cross Point Towers in Lowell to Route 225 in Westford will officially open! This is the first completed section of the 25-mile rail trail that is planned to extend southward through Acton, Concord and Sudbury into Framingham. The MassHighway ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 10:00 am at Old Town Hall in Chelmsford Center, followed by a gala celebration sponsored by the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail on the Chelmsford Town Common with music, balloons, and refreshments.

The 6.8 miles of trail will be open, with activities suitable for children and adults scheduled from the ribbon cutting to 2:00 pm. Join the activities by using any non-motorized form of transportation, and enjoy this new trail. A barbeque with hot dogs, hamburgers, and soft drinks, for $1 each, will be available at Agway on Maple Road in Chelmsford from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm

Rain or shine, folks! Hope to see you there!

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