Sunday, August 11, 2019

Getting Righteous

Been away from blogging for a while, but an Unchained Melody brought me back to the keyboard to share some terrific tunes from a rock and roll icon, and at the same time, fill you in on one of the better kept secrets for live acts in this area, smack dab in the home of the American Revolution!
First off, a bit of history that you not only wouldn't know, but might wish you still didn't know after reading through.
File this one under the TMI header.
Once upon a time in the summer of 1991, there was a young couple in the earliest weeks of their courting.  This pair of a Big City Slicker and a Small Town Girl had been set up on a blind date by a duo of high school friends of mine (looking at you Darlene and Nat!)
Anyway, Paxton native Jackie Nicholson was house-sitting for a co-worker in Lowell's Pawtucketville neighborhood, and invited me over for dinner- chicken parm, with especially chewy brownies for dessert, in case you're wondering. After the dinner, we watched a movie together - me for the first time, Jack for a repeat performance of Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.)
Sappy date movie, I know, but once we got past Oda Mae Brown, Henry the VIII and Tarzan being a bad guy, this particular flick also marked the first time Jack and I said "I love you" to one another. And we didn't need a pottery wheel to get there.  A turning point in our blooming relationship, yes, and from that point forward, Unchained Melody which accompanied the aforementioned pottery scene, was claimed as "our song."
It was also played for our first dance together as a married couple on our wedding day the following August, an anniversary of which is coming up in just a few days.
As luck would have it, the crooners of that Unchained Melody blockbuster tune, the Righteous Brothers, were in nearby Lexington on Sunday at Cary Hall.
And my bride and I were all kinds of down with getting Righteous along with another 800 music fans.
My workplace was well-represented at the performance hall, with Ellen Wright from Middlesex Community College's Corporate and Community Education division staffing an informational table and filling show-goers in on all things MCC.  Nice job, Ellen, and Revolutionary work from Judy Burke for linking the college up with Cary for its fall concert series!
Pete Lally, the President of Spectacle Management, which oversees the venue, along with, among others, its sister showcase in the Mill City, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, welcomed concert-goers to the sold-out performance. 
Some Cary Hall fast-facts for you:
It was built in 1928 with a donation from the two daughters of Isaac Harris Cary, a prominent Lexington resident.  The Colonial styled building has hosted community events for more than eight decades, and is home to the Lexington Symphony.
This particular date, it welcomed the Righteous Brothers, the 2019 edition.
The original duo - Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield (seen above in the backdrop video montage) - began performing together in 1962.  They recorded together for decades before Hatfield's death in 2003.  Medley's bass-baritone voice, coupled with Hatfield tenor vocals, combined for some of the most unforgettable singles of the past half century.
Three years ago, Medley decided to "get the band back together" and recruited Bucky Heard to hit the high notes.  Heard had previously been covering a slate of Journey tunes with another band.  The pair has been touring now for three years, and is enjoying a successful extended stint in Vegas during the fall and winter months.
Heard's vocals on songs on Sunday such as Roy Orbison's Crying, and the operatic Nessun Dorma were crowd-pleasers and genuine gems.
For a flavor of the duo's vocals take a click on any of the hyper-links below for 
quick video peeks at some of the highlights from the powerful performance






The band also took a moment to recognize all of the veterans in the audience, raising the house lights and asking them to stand and take a bow.
The group then feted the veterans with a pair of covers of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and Bill Withers' Lean on Me.



And then they proceeded to plow through a bevy of their own most memorable tunes including:


From another Patrick Swayze flick, Dirty Dancing



And, of course, the song Jackie and I had waited 27 years to see performed live


(We didn't get a chance to dance this time, for fear of obstructing others' views)

On the way out the door, we bumped into old friends and dancing buddies Chris and Jeannine Yianopoulos of Dracut, two of the many packing the rafters at Cary.

All in all, a Righteous summer afternoon in Lexington, and a perfect date with my bride.

This one's for MY Soul and Inspiration, Jackie


Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

Ditto.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Bradley Sue-per!

Five years on, and the feet keep pounding the pavement on the track at the Academy of Notre Dame in memory of Sue (Scanlon) Bradley, whose life was cut way too short by a brain tumor in 2014.
In the ensuing five years, her entire family, along with their extended group of friends, co-workers, dancers, and dedicated athletes have logged literally hundreds upon hundreds of laps around the track at Notre Dame to raise money for a scholarship established in her memory.
Not every year has yielded the best of weather, but this year, we had some hints of blue breaking through the cloud cover at the start of the track laps, led of course, by her husband and children.
Never mind the walking, the Cassidy Clan was quick to stake out its early raffle prize position - a strategy that would later pay off.
The next generation of walkers tries valiantly to keep up with the veteran hoofers in the crowd.
Alas, they weren't able to maintain our blistering pace for long.
Old St. Joe's High School bud, Bay City Roller Groupie, and a former friend of Sue's, Matchmaker Extraordinaire Darlene Slates (with husband Jon hanging in close) tries to explain to my bride - "Seriously, I just thought you guys would have a date or two, I never thought he'd ask you to marry him!"  Jack, for her part, just scratches her head in befuddlement at the series of events. 
These two guys... I'll tell ya. 
Sue's mom takes her inspirational lap around the track, with Tommy and Ann checking out wind conditions for the course.
Fathers and Sons Assemble!
St. Joe's Survivors Support Group, 2019
Don't ask me the point of these two.  No one knows.
An E Streeters group shot, with those still left standing at walk's end, joined by Alex Kintner's mother from Jaws in the back row.
Sue passed away from a glioblastoma, a type of of malignant brain tumor.  The annual spring walk-a-thon allows her family to help give back to Sue's extended community family.
Sue worked in school systems for 25 years, and all the monies raised from the walk go to the Susan Bradley Scholarship set up at NDA.
You can still donate to the scholarship, by visiting Sue's page here: Susan Bradley Scholarship
Missing you, Sue, but everyone who loved you is still logging the mileage to keep your legacy alive!

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Concord, Conquered - A Tale of Hearts and Crafts

“There is in my nature, methinks, a singular yearning toward all wildness.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

I've been called thorough, but never Thoreau.  Nevertheless, when the invite was extended to put paddle to water and to represent Middlesex Community College alongside State Senator Edward Kennedy and a team of future leaders from Lowell High School who would be making the first runs on the whitewater currents of Lowell's Concord River, the time was finally nigh.
For me, it was a long overdue experience.  Along with my fellow E Streeters, I had previously conquered the Penobscot, Kennebec, Dead, New, and Snake Rivers in these great United States.  But amazingly, considering I CAN SEE IT FROM MY OFFICE WINDOW at Middlesex Community College, I had never ventured into the Mighty Concord River. 
Time for that to change, courtesy of Jane Calvin, Katie Durkin and the fine folks at the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, who organize weekend trips down the Concord River with Zoar Outdoor.
Here we are with our crafts, still dry as a bone (and I might add, basking in the sunlight that would disappear as the day progressed.)
This past weekend, it was the brave hearts from the Lowell High School who took the 2019 maiden voyage along the Concord River to show the rest of the Adventure-Seeking World how it's done.
Give it up for Amina Bangura, Rose Prout, Kimberly May, Youvanny Tim, Anthony Roman, Nicole Bula, Angelia Liang and Sabatini Suon!
They were joined on this outing by Lowell State Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the biggest cheerleaders of Lowell's whitewater rafting program you'll find in these here woods.
At the Inn and Conference Center on Warren Street. the starting point for all the trips, it was time for the first of many group shots.  The wetsuits, life vests and helmets don't allow for a lot of freestylin' pics, but that didn't stop some of the folks from Lowell Telecommunications Corp from giving it the old Middlesex Community College try!  The LTC folks, by the way, chronicled the trip on their video Go Pros, and will be broadcasting the results on their station later this month. 
Senator Kennedy did an amazing job interacting with the Lowell High students.  He reinforced to them how lucky they are to be living in an industrial city that also offers Class 3 and 4 white water rapids options, something you would normally only find in the western, more rural parts of the state.
He alternated between wearing his teacher hat, his State Senator hat, his former County Commissioner hat, and his former Lowell Mayor and current City Councilor hat.
Thankfully, reason and safety won out, and he opted to go with his water safety hat/helmet instead.
From the ICC, your voyage takes you out to Lawrence Street, alongside the Lowell Cemetery, where you unload the rafts and start your adventure.
The LHS students belong to the COMPASS and T.R.E.E.S. and Outdoor Adventure Environmental Clubs, after school programs taught by the folks at Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust and Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm.  Both of the programs are STEM-based clubs that focus on hands-on activities, community projects, and outdoor classroom experiences.
Three cheers for these brave souls!
The Concord River trip consists of two trips along the water, for adventurous rafters ages 14 and up.  Yes, participants are required to wear life jackets and helmets, along with the wetsuits and waterproof jackets which you will be thanking all of your ancestors for once that first wave hits you.
One thing you're NOT required to do is to stage the Tusken Raiders scene from Star Wars.
But for Katie and I, it was unavoidable.
Ladies and gentlemen - grab your oars! 
The Lowell trips are coordinated by the fine folks from Zoar Outdoor (website here: Zoar ) who have this rafting thing down pat - and not just this writer.  They know every nook and cranny along this stretch of the Concord, as can be evidenced in some of these action shots taken by Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust Head Honcho Jane Calvin, who traversed the entire length of the course to capture Pulitzer-worthy pics throughout!
The 1.7 mile long stretch of urban whitewater on the Concord rips you through three sets of Class 3/4 rapids: Twisted Sister
Umm.....not that one
No, this Twisted Sister on the Concord, Three Beauties which can be found on your approach to the Church Street/Andover Street bridge, and the Middlesex Dam alongside the Lower Locks Garage on your approach to Middlesex Community College.
The outing provided some sightings of Lowell wildlife - and we're not talking the Zoar tour guides.  No, in this case, we saw otters swimming alongside our rafts, a heron gliding overhead, and lastly, a beaver watching curiously from the shore near the Bagshaw Mills, marveling at our dam navigational expertise. 
So fun fact via the folks at Zoar - when the water level is right - WHICH IT WAS THIS PAST WEEKEND - Three Beauties becomes an intensely fun surfing hole.
What does that mean?  Well as this writer found out the extremely hard way, surfing involves paddling upstream into a wave or hole with the goal to fill the boat with water.  Let me tell you.  IT WORKS.  It also almost resulted in Ye Wicked Good Blogger becoming a Wicked Good Blubberer when I went @$$ over teakettle and was only saved from a dip into one of the the Beauties whose name I did not catch by the nimble hands of our guide, Tom, to whom I will be eternally grateful, because I think the moment would have been captured via Go Pro, a video that would have gone instantly viral.
Cue your favorite Beach Boys song, here's a couple of said surfing pics:
And here's a smattering of other action pics taken along the course 
Take note in this pic of ALL THE WATER in the front of the Senator's boat! 
Sadly, the voyage needed to come to end, and we had to disembark behind MCC and the ICC (an adventure unto itself, as curious fishermen watched the conquering heroes return to dry land.)
The day after our trip, the folks in this year's Public Matters leadership class run through the Lowell Plan were making their own team-bonding trip down the river.  (We had already broken in all the most dangerous stretches for them.)
It seems unlikely, but on the infinitesimal chance that you STILL have any questions about the greatness that is Lowell Whitewater Rafting, or need more information, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust has conveniently put all of the information at your fingertips in one place and you can check out their website here: (trips run weekends through the end of May)



I tried to figure out some heartfelt way to close out the blog post, but then realized Henry David Thoreau had already captured my wonder and appreciation, and said it much more profoundly.
Take it away Mr. Thoreau!

I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, watching the lapse of the current, an emblem of all progress, following the same law with the system, with time, and all that is made; the weeds at the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but erelong to die and go down likewise; the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

We Put the Owl in Lowell

After decades of living in the city, I thought I had visited most of the hidden prizes in some of our city's neighborhoods.  Come to find out, I was wrong.  And it took the lure of catching a glimpse of some owls to introduce me to the wonder that is the Hawk Valley Farm at 526 Varnum Avenue, nestled between Varnum Avenue and Pawtucket Boulevard over in the Pawtucketville neighborhood (in the woods behind the soccer fields.)
Thanks to Jane Calvin and Katie Durkin from the Lowell Parks and Conversation Trust, I joined about 40 other interested bird-watchers Friday night to go exploring the snow-covered trails of the farm, the entrance of which lies off Varnum Terrace, from the Varnum Avenue side.  The second oldest home in the city stands at the entrance to the trails.
Chris and Brianne Lemay were there, with all four of their daughters in tow.  Some of them, though, figured out the easiest way to traverse the trails would be riding on Andrew's shoulders.
Some history: Hawk Valley Farm has been owned by the Varnum family since 1664, when English immigrant Samuel Varnum bought 1,000 acres of Pawtucketville real estate.  He and his sons grew crops and kept livestock on the land, while living on the Highlands side of the river in a small garrison to protect them from conflicts with Native Americans.  (Two of Varnum's sons would end up being killed in those conflicts.) 
355 years later, five acres of the land still remain untouched and undeveloped, and will continue to be so, thanks to the Parks and Conversation Trust.  Hawk Valley Farm became the conservation trust's first Conservation Restriction, which ensures perpetual protection so that future generations can explore the history of the area.
For more than a decade, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust has worked with the Pawtucketville Citizens Council to protect the farm.  The Farm contains prime agricultural soil, unique nut trees, and wildlife habits.  
On this particular night, the intrepid group of explorers went looking for some of our winged friends.
Daredevil's nemesis the Owl wasn't there
but the trust brought an ornithology expert along, who brought her own friend.
Couldn't catch it with a pic, but on the site remains a cabin foundation wall and old farm from the original homestead, centuries ago.
Sadly, while this night provided some haunting and moody skies complete with rapidly shifting clouds and breezes, the owls were apparently in hiding.
We did, however, come across a bevy of coyote tracks, which led off into some of the other trails.
For more information about future Owl Prowls, pay a visit to the trust's website at www.lowelllandtrust.org or give them a call at 978-934-0030.
Me, I'm going to keep looking for new surprises in the Mill City.  And of course, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for this guy:
ALTHOUGH, as anyone who knows me is aware, I'm big Twin Peaks fan.  And therefore, can never forget this:
Oh, and one last thing - going back to our opening picture, I went in search of an official answer out there as to how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
Hint: it ain't a-three.
According to Purdue University, it's 252.
The University of Michigan said it's 411.
I guess it's true.
The world may never know.