“Too Perfect To Pass Up”!

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CONCORD — Harvesting asparagus is back-breaking work. “There’s a lot of up and down, moving down the row,” says Lise Holdorf of Barrett’s Mill Farm as she and business partner Melissa Maxwell and assistant grower Rachel Klepner stoop to cut the green spears about an inch or two above the ground. Their white buckets fill with asparagus still warm from their soil cradle. They’ll repeat this early morning routine every day through mid-June until the field is picked clean.

Holdorf, 35, and Maxwell, 33, have operated Barrett’s Mill Farm for a year. Holdorf was raised here, Maxwell in Connecticut. They have a five-year lease from the Town of Concord and live in the farmhouse on the land. In order to make the finances work, they’re in the fields six long days a week and do occasional odd jobs on Sundays.

Asparagus is a perennial crop that Barrett’s Mill — and the town — is well known for. “This farm, in particular, has sandy, well-drained soil that is great for asparagus and strawberries,” says Maxwell. Local restaurant 80 Thoreau makes good use of the flavorful spears on its menus. Co-owner and general manager Ian Calhoun, who lives down the road from the farm, stops by a few mornings each week to buy asparagus for the restaurant. “It’s exciting to see a couple of younger farmers take over stewardship of the land,” he says.

“The beginning of June is when [the farm] takes off,” says Maxwell. Strawberries ripen, along with radishes, salad greens, sugar snaps, beets, and herbs. The farm’s Community Supported Agriculture starts on June 9. For the 20-week season, members can fill up a tote bag with harvested vegetables and also venture into the pick-your-own fields to rustle up some strawberries and additional veggies. The farm’s Barrett’s Bucks program, says Holdorf, “is a smaller commitment and you don’t have to come every week.” (Bucks cost $275 for an equivalent farm store credit; a CSA share is $660.)

The farm became available after former owner Patrick McGrath died in 2012. The town bought the century-old farmstead and in December 2013 requested proposals from farmers who wanted to lease the property. Included are approximately 12 tillable acres, a residence, greenhouse, farm stand, and barn. The women’s business plan was chosen by the town and in March 2014, the two moved in, Holdorf with her husband, Matt Conroy, a high school teacher, and baby daughter Cyra.

Holdorf was happy to return to the town where she grew up. “It was too perfect to pass up,” she says. Maxwell had been looking for a farm for a number of years. “It’s unique in this area to find something that could support two people, she says. The women had worked together for a half-dozen years at Appleton Farms in Ipswich.

With a full year under their belts, the duo is expanding the planted fields from 4 to 6 acres. “We started small,” says Holdorf, adding that they benefited from lots of helping hands. “The neighbors and farming community in town all supported us,” says Maxwell. In addition to the 50 or so vegetables and herbs they grew last season, this year they’ll be harvesting strawberries, garlic (scapes will be available mid-June, the bulbs in the fall), cipollini onions, red onions, and a mini broccoli variety called Happy Rich.

As women farmers, Holdorf and Maxwell are in good company. According to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, female farmers represent 32 percent of all principal operators in the state. That’s more than double the 14 percent of women principal operators nationwide, according to 2012 data. The disparity is due mostly to the abundance of small farms in the Bay State — there are over 7,700 farms, many of which are just a few acres in size — as compared to mega operations in other regions.

The Barrett’s Mill lease costs the women $1,400 per month, which includes the farm land, buildings, and residence. The duo invested their own money in used tractors and implements as well as tools and supplies to build tables for a greenhouse and farm stand. Before they moved in, the Concord Housing Foundation had raised funds for renovations to the farmhouse and to convert it into a two-family home to accommodate two farmers. “It’s in excellent condition and a good place for a family to live,” says Holdorf.

The farmers made a small profit in the first year. “We did a careful budget over the winter,” says Holdorf, which allowed them to hire one full-time grower and four part-time field and farm stand workers for spring and summer. “This year we’re hoping for long-term sustainable income for us,” she says.

In Concord, both Macone Farm and First Root Farm are owned by women. Susan Macone, 64, has run what was her family farm since the early 1980s. “We do everything the old-fashioned way,” she says, growing award-winning tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, green beans, and other vegetables. She sells her produce at the neighboring Brigham Farm Stand.

First Root owner Laura Sackton, 29, grew up in nearby Lexington and currently manages 4-plus acres with Cheryl Nunes. They grow about 40 different vegetables, most of which are sold to 225 CSA members. Sackton, who cofounded the farm in 2009, says, “A lot of young people who didn’t grow up on farms are being drawn to farming.” For her, the satisfaction comes with “being outside and the hands-on, always changing work.” The young farmer speaks highly of Concord as a place to set down roots. “It has a supportive agricultural community and people are excited to buy local food.”

Concord also has a vivid history. Directly across the road from Barrett’s Mill Farm sits the old, brown and weathered Colonel James Barrett House, part of the Minute Man National Historical Park. The colonel (and his home) played a key role in the first battle — and first victory — of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. After Paul Revere warned of the British Redcoats’ advance, the story goes that Barrett’s sons buried the Colonial militia’s weapons and munitions in the fields around the house to hide them from the British.

While the land is old, the Barrett’s Mill farmers are new and as dedicated as their forebears. With every planting (and plowing and weeding and harvest), they’re hoping the soil will be fruitful for at least another 100 years.

BARRETT’S MILL FARM

449 Barrett’s Mill Road, Concord, 978-254-5609, www.barrettsmillfarm.com

in Boston Globe,Wednesday June 3, 2015 by Lisa Zwern

The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Boston

In 1991, after almost a decade of planning, construction began on the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, more widely known as the “Big Dig”. The project, recognized as one of the largest, most complex, and technologically challenging in the history of the United States, would remove the elevated highway and create a tunnel system below the city.

With the elevated highway to be relocated underground, community and political leaders seized the opportunity to enhance the city by creating the Greenway, a linear series of parks and gardens that would re-connect some of Boston’s oldest, most diverse, and vibrant neighborhoods. The creation of the Greenway was a joint effort of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Boston, and various civic groups.

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The Greenway Carousel officially opened to the public on August 31, 2013 .The Carousel features 14 different characters native to the land, sea and sky of Massachusetts including a sea turtle, a cod, a peregrine falcon, a grasshopper, a harbor seal, a fox, a skunk, a whale, three types of butterflies, a barn owl, and a sea serpent. The characters were inspired by the drawings of Boston school children and fabricated by Newburyport, Massachusetts artist Jeff Briggs.

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There is also a set of lights in the section called “the Wharf District Parks” that can change color according to who just won games-Red for the Sox,blue for the Patriots etc. In addition Winter Lights on the Greenway is a series of lighting displays intended to bring warmth and cheer to the Greenway during the darkest part of the year.

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Right now and until October there is an incredible sculpture, As If It Were Already Here,from internationally renowned local artist, Janet Echelman.  Knitting together the urban fabric, it soars 600 feet through the air above street traffic and pedestrian park.

The form of “As If It Were Already Here” echoes the history of its location. The three voids recall the “Tri-Mountain” which was razed in the 18th-century to create land from the harbor. The colored banding is a nod to the six traffic lanes that once overwhelmed the neighborhood, before the Big Dig buried them and enabled the space to be reclaimed for urban pedestrian life.

The sculpture is made by hand-splicing rope and knotting twine into an interconnected mesh of more than a half-million nodes. When any one of its elements moves, every other element is affected. Monumental in scale and strength yet delicate as lace, it fluidly responds to ever-changing wind and weather. Its fibers are 15 times stronger than steel yet incredibly lightweight, making the sculpture able to lace directly into three skyscrapers as a soft counterpoint to hard-edged architecture.

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Mostly it was nice to see people out enjoying the beautiful day and hanging out-walking,strolling,chatting in this new, beautiful 1 1/2 mile Greenway.

 

Quacking Up in Pittsburgh!

A great thing to do if in Pittsburgh. Operational after the Duck Boat Tours in Boston were so popular,Pittsburgh has had much success with this tour as well.

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On the tour, they first talk about the skyline of Pittsburgh. It is  the second-largest city in  Pennsylvania, and is home to 135 completed high rises, 29 of which stand at least 300 feet tall. The tallest building in Pittsburgh is the 64 story US Steel Building, which rises 841 feet and was completed in 1970. The second-tallest skyscraper in the city is BNY Mellon Center.

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One of the things they also talk about is about the flood of March 17 and 18, 1936. The city witnessed the worst flood in its history when flood levels peaked at 46 feet. This flood became known as the Great St.Patricks Day Flood.

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Pittsburgh is also a city of many different styles of architecture. There are many beautiful old churches and office buildings and then many new “shiny” buildings. The cluster known as PPG Place is a complex   consisting of six buildings(and are the shiniest!) within three city blocks and five and a half acres. Named for its anchor tenant, PPG Industries, who initiated the project for its headquarters, the buildings are all of matching glass design consisting of 19,750 pieces of glass. The complex centers on One PPG Place, a 40-story office building. Groundbreaking ceremonies occurred on January 28, 1981. The complex buildings opened between 1983 and 1984. Total cost of construction was $200 million ($488.8 million today). The buildings were sold by The Hillman Company to Highwoods Properties in 2011.

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Once you have driven through the city quaking all the way, you dip into the  Monongahela River for a tour from the water. You first see the second of two “inclines”.The Monongahela Incline, built by John Endres in 1870, is located near the Smithfield Street Bridge. It is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the US. It is also one of two surviving inclines from the original 17 passenger-carrying inclines built in Pittsburgh starting in the late 19th century. 

Pittsburgh’s expanding industrial base in 1860 created a huge demand for labor, attracting mainly German immigrants to the region. This created a serious housing shortage as industry occupied most of the flat lands adjacent to the river, leaving only the steep, surrounding hillsides of Mt. Washington or “Coal Hill” for housing. However, travel between the “hill” and other areas was hindered by a lack of good roads or public transport.The predominantly German immigrants who settled on Mt. Washington, remembering the cable cars  of their former country, proposed the construction of inclines along the face of Coal Hill. The result was the Monongahela Incline, which opened May 28, 1870.Earlier inclines were used to transport coal in the Pittsburgh area.

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You next paddle by the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers which is called Heinz Field ,and then by the beautiful Point State Park which was filled with strolling couples with small children.

 

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There are also many other ways to see Pittsburgh. Another popular one is to take an evening dinner cruise  on the Gateway River Fleet.

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Near the end of the tour the guides play a little game with you. They ask “how many bridges are there in Pitttsburgh?” Of course the answer is one that no one could even imagine….without bridges, the Pittsburgh region would be a series of fragmented valleys, hillsides, river plains, and isolated communities. A 2006 study determined that Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, and with its proximity to three major rivers and countless hills and ravines, Pittsburgh is known as “The City of Bridges”.

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Verona-Another City of Love in Italy

 

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Straddling the Adige river in Veneto, northern Italy, you will find Verona  which has approximately 265,000 inhabitants. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of northeast Italy. It is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, owing to its artistic heritage, several annual fairs, shows, and operas, such as the lyrical season in the Arena, the ancient amphitheater built by the Romans.

Three of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Verona: Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew.

Piazza Delle Erbe(above) is a good place to start a visit to Verona. Originally the Roman Forum, the rectangular piazza is in the heart of the historic center and is surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings and towers. In the middle is a 14th century fountain with a Roman statue.
This is Verona’s market square- where vendors come to slice and sell whatever’s in season. People have gathered here since Roman times, when this was a forum. The whale’s rib, hanging from an archway for 500 years, was a souvenir brought home from the Orient by spice traders. Today Piazza Erbe is for the locals, who start their evening with anaperitivo here. It’s a trendy scene, as young Veronans fill the bars to enjoy their refreshing spritzdrinks, olives, and chips.

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Verona’s Roman Arena is the third largest in Italy (after the Roman Colosseum and the arena in Capua). Built in the 1st century and still retaining most of the original stone, the arena holds up to 25,000 spectators. Since 1913 it has been the venue for a prestigious opera festival and a top setting for other theatrical performances. Although part of the seating is in bright orange and red chairs, it’s easy to imagine the original look of the amphitheater.

 

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Ancient Romans considered Verona an ideal resting spot before crossing the Alps so the city has a wealth of Roman ruins. Corso Porta Borsari was the main drag of Roman Verona. A stroll here makes for a fun, ancient scavenger hunt. Remnants of the town’s illustrious past — chips of Roman columns, medieval reliefs, fine old facades, and fossils in marble — are scattered among modern-day fancy shop windows.

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Verona’s most popular site is the balcony said to be Juliet’s in Romeo and Juliet. The house said to be Juliet’s house is in a courtyard off Via Capello. You can see the balcony and the bronze statue of Juliet for free .The 13th century house is a good example of Gothic architecture and inside is a museum with period furniture. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made Verona a household word. Locals marvel that each year, about 1,600 Japanese tour groups break their Venice-to-Milan ride for an hour-long stop in Verona just to stand in a courtyard. The House of Juliet, where the real-life Cappello family once lived, is a crass and throbbing mob scene. The tiny, admittedly romantic courtyard is a spectacle in itself, with visitors from all over the world posing on the almost believable balcony and taking snapshots of each other rubbing Juliet’s bronze breast, hoping to get lucky in love.(this is supposed to happen within 7 years!)

Fifth Season- Final Downton..sigh…..

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Even though Downton Abbey’s fifth season got off to a shaky start, it ended up being so eventful that the estate’s fearless leader suffered a cardiac scare tonight from all of the activity. Among the year’s high and lowlights inside our favorite Yorkshire household: Mary got a haircut, a weirdly inconsequential fire ravaged Edith’s room, Isis died, a creepy art critic preyed upon Cora, the Dowager toyed with the idea of running off with a long-haired Russian refugee, Daisy quit the kitchen George Costanza-style only to revoke her notice, the Bates family was subjected to a tired retread of that whole falsely-accused-of-murder-and-sent-to-prison plot, Lord Grantham took in an orphan only to realize it was Edith’s illegitimate child, and Rose married a Jewish fellow. And during tonight’s two-hour season finale—which aired in the U.K. as the show’s Christmas special—the gang joined the Sinderbys at Hogwarts for grouse hunting before ringing in the holidays at home. (We are serious about Hogwarts—Downton filmed the Brancaster Castle exteriors at Alnwick Castle, which doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Pottermovies.)

Let’s Review:

Carson Makes It Official by Proposing to Hughes (Believability: 3)

We are not monsters—we all want Carson and Hughes, longtime work husband and wife, to continue their march to full-on coupledom. They are far better suited for each other than any other couple in the house. But if we did not love these characters so much, and already have their housewarming gift ordered (a lovely calendar to remind Carson on a daily basis that it is no longer 1890), we might be dubious about Carson’s decision to commit to Hughes after her red-flag filled confession. In the course of a two-minute scene, Hughes reveals that she has possibly psychotic family members whom she will need to support financially for the rest of her life . . . and no money. And somehow, Carson is still like, “‘Das cool. Here are the keys to the house I bought in both our names.”

While Suze Orman may not approve, Carson goes ahead with his plans and proposes to Hughes on Christmas Eve while she awkwardly holds two drinks in her hand. The moment is perfect though—who would have thought that last season’s hand holding would lead to this?—and our hearts swell when Carson tells Hughes, “I am not marrying anyone else.”

Anna Is Thrown in Jail Because One Man Thinks He Saw Her Throw a Serial Rapist Into Traffic (Believability: 0)

We know this happened last episode but we still can’t wrap our minds around this plot twist, even though we’ve spent five seasons systematically lowering our expectations for Downton Abbey storytelling logic. We’ve been through this whole a-Bates-family-member-is-falsely-imprisoned-for-murder plot before and it doesn’t make much of a difference to us that Anna is now goingOrange Is the New Black instead of Bates this time around. (We will say that Anna’s miserable-in-prison expressions are not much different than her everyday expressions and Bates’s worried-about-Anna faces aren’t any less creepy than normal.)

Mary Still Has Not Realized That Marigold Is Edith’s Daughter (Believability: 3)

It seems insane to us that Mary has not noticed that Edith, her blood sister and chief antagonist, has birthed a daughter who is now living in their household. She certainly notices the bizarre fixation that Edith has with Marigold, is annoyed by it, and puts Edith down on the subject whenever she has the chance. Mary’s most immortal line about parenting arrives tonight, and chills us to our core: “Why don’t you just shut [the children] up in a box in the attic and let them out when they are 21?” For once, Edith sees a way in which Mary’s cruelty can be used in her favor: “[Mary] is completely uninterested in me which should keep [my secret] safe.”

Barrow Manages to Uncover Sinderby’s Darkest Secrets, and Lure Them to Hogwarts Within Some 72 Hours of Being There (Believability: 6)

Barrow only uses his vengeful skill set for good these days, not evil. And in tonight’s episode, we see Barrow take up Lady Mary’s invitation to bring down Sinderby’s butler, and then go one step farther, raiding Sinderby’s own closet for the perfect skeleton that could completely undo him—and manages to find it, or “him” specifically: the illegitimate son he sired with another woman. Barrow lures both to Hogwarts during a party, but Rose thwarts his plan and saves the unsavory Sinderby. Why exactly? I suppose to forge a good relationship with her father-in-law on the foundation of his extramarital sins. But we would have loved to see how the episode would have played out Sliding Doors-style had Sinderby’s illegitimate son been discovered.

Lord Grantham Knows Exactly What to Say to Edith in a Tender Moment (Believability: 2)

Who is this new and improved Lord Grantham, who not only detects emotional nuance but is able to appropriately reciprocate it? Last week, we watched as Lord Grantham surprised everyone by going out of his way to do something thoughtful for Mrs. Patmore. And now, when he decides to tell Edith he’s learned of her secret, he does so with sympathy and understanding. “I’m sure I need your forgiveness just as much as you need mine,” he tells Edith after she apologizes. The line is so Oprah-level spot-on, that we half expected Lord Grantham to suddenly rip his face off, Mission Impossible mask-style, revealing that Dr. Phil had been there underneath the whole time. It will be interesting to see how Mary reacts to the news that her sister is Marigold’s mother, and see whether this news will finally soften their relationship as cartoonish enemies.

Branson Says Goodbye to Downton (Believability: 4)

In what was surely the worst moment of the episode, Branson stares off in the children’s nursery and, when Edith asks why, he says because he “is taking pictures in his mind” so that he has memories of the home when he is in Boston. Later, he tops himself for stiff line readings when he tells Lord Grantham that he will not consider leaving Sybbie at Downton but adds this as some weird consolation: “I love the way you love her.” Farewell, Tom.

Lady Mary Essentially Informs a Stranger How Much He Has Unknowingly Inconvenienced Her Extended Family (Believability: 9)

Well what else should she do during the course of the episode? Break Anna out of prison? Mother her child? Forge a relationship with her last living sister? Ha! No, Mary played etiquette police on tonight’s episode, informing Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) that he had rudely (if unknowingly) crashed their hunting party. Of course, Mary can segue any awkward introduction with a handsome man into a flirtation, and manages to do just that, showing us that she has better chemistry with him and his fancy car than she had with either Blake or Gillingham.

Spratt Challenges Denker to a Broth Off (Believability: 4)

May we never forget that this was actually a storyline in tonight’s Downton Abbey. Spratt nurtures his inner Barrow this episode, suggesting that Denka prove herself as a lady’s maid by making broth. Alas, the challenge only unites Denka and the Dowager and wastes valuable screen time that could have been spent on the surprisingly crafty Molesley.

The Dowager Sends Prince Kuragin Away with His Miserable Wife (Believability: 7)

“I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man,” the Dowager tells Isobel after reuniting her suitor with his far flung wife. “Was I so wrong to savor it?” After getting a glimpse of the wholly unpleasant Princess Kuragin (who follows Larry Grey and Susan MacClare in this season’s procession of awful Downton guests), we understand why the prince was so eager to leave her. Later in the episode, the Dowager confides to Isobel that the princess once physically wrestled her out of running off with the prince. Asked if the Dowager’s husband realized, when she got home, that she had been ruffled up, the Dowager offers the best-timed retort of the evening: “Men notice nothing.”

Yes, the same man that dyed his hair shoe-polish black earlier this season finds a way to free Bates from his self-imposed Fugitive sentence. (Where were these two back when Bates was wrongly accused of murder the first time around?) While the rest of the house wrings their hands over the criminal drama-prone character—who foolishly confessed to a murder he did not commit to free Anna, and then ran away Dr. Richard Kimble-style—Molesley finds a photo of Bates and then recruits Baxter to travel to each and every pub in York until he finds a witness who can confirm Bates’s alibi. And it is a good thing too: I don’t know that any of us were as invested in this plot retread to purchase “Free Bates” T-shirts this time around. The episode ends with Bates sneaking into Downton Abbey on Christmas Eve and surprising Anna, which is nice for them. But of all the characters on the series, these two need a plot makeover most. Maybe next Christmas.

Julie Miller is a Hollywood writer for Vanity Fair‘s website.

More Monticellos?!

 

The “New Monticello” in Somers, Connecticut
(photos:SOTHEBY’S INTERNATIONAL REALTY)

On his gravestone at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson chose to be remembered for three things: the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia statute for religious freedom, and the University of Virginia.

Though 100-year-old S. Prestley Blake of Somers, Connecticut, has not yet shuffled off this mortal coil, he wants to be remembered for just one thing: his devotion to Thomas Jefferson. The centenarian has, in fact, summed up a lifetime’s admiration of Jefferson in one parting gesture—he has built a $6 million replica of Monticello next to his own Connecticut estate.

Though the home looks like Monticello from the exterior, the kitchen (top) and bathrooms (bottom) inside boast modern amenities and design.

Like the real Monticello in Charlottesville, Blake’s replica sits on a hill, commanding a view of the surrounding area and commanding the attention of passersby. Near the door of this dream home, which he plans to sell to a “worthy buyer,” he has placed a plaque with a quote by Jefferson—taken from a 1787 letter to George Gilmer: “I am as happy no where else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”

Blake—who never attended U.Va. or lived anywhere near Charlottesville—sees the just-completed project as his gift to posterity.

“The last sentence in my book that is coming out this spring is ‘I am 100 years old and this is my swan song,’” he said.

Blake will, of course, be remembered for other things besides his Monticello. For one, he is cofounder of Friendly’s Ice Cream, an iconic restaurant chain in New England.

For another, Mr. Blake’s just-completed Monticello is not his first architectural tribute to Jefferson. In the 1990s, he and his wife, Helen, donated the funds for a Monticello-inspired building to house the middle school at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Mass. Five years ago, they funded the construction of the president’s residence at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., a structure that also contains echoes of Monticello.

It was while the Springfield College project was under way that Mr. Blake began to conceive of “his” Monticello in Somers, located just over the state border from Springfield.

“Monticello is the most prominent private residence in the United States. You see it reproduced everywhere,” says Blake, who has visited Monticello many times. “Five years ago, I went down to Charlottesville to see it again. I love good architecture and Jefferson’s is the best.”

When the property next door to his own came up for sale, Mr. Blake reached his Rubicon. He purchased the land, about 10 acres, tore down the structures that were on it and began to put his signature idea into action. Then he hired Bill LaPlante, who owned the contracting company that built the president’s house at Springfield College.

“When we learned he wanted us to build Monticello, I was shocked. I dismissed it, thinking, ‘This isn’t going to happen,’” LaPlante says.

And yet, Mr. Blake called back soon thereafter, saying he had plane tickets ready for LaPlante and his father, Raymond, founder of the company, to Charlottesville.

At Monticello, the LaPlantes met with various officials who spent six hours answering their questions.

“They were extremely gracious. “It was interesting to see the progression of Monticello,” LaPlante says. “Jefferson would build something, then tear it down, and put something else up. He spent his life obsessed with architecture and this house.”

For the actual architectural plans, the LaPlantes consulted Monticello in Measured Drawings, a book of plans compiled directly from the Historic American Buildings Survey. While most of the exterior of Mr. Blake’s Monticello conforms to Mr. Jefferson’s original, only some of the interior retains the Jeffersonian touch, including the dining room, tea room, main foyer and hall and the use of a Monticello pattern on the parquet floors. Jefferson tinkered away on his house for 28 years, and spent about $100,461 (roughly $1.3 million in today’s dollars). The LaPlantes, meanwhile, working in a more technologically-advanced time, different time, needed only 18 months.

And while Jefferson’s house is roughly 11,000 square feet, Blake’s is a streamlined 10,000 square feet with modern amenities like geothermal heating and three helicopter landing sites on the property. There are also small touches to adhere to local ordinances, like railings on the front door entryway.

“We re-created the front façade to scale, which is 95 percent accurate,” says LaPlante. “The original porches on the sides are now enclosed and the rear of the house is 50 percent accurate.”

Blake is particularly proud, albeit amused, by the attention to detail.

“I wanted to have the house as close as possible to the original, and this one has the exact same footprint as Jefferson’s,” he says. “Bricks normally cost 50 cents apiece, but ours cost $1 apiece because they’re handmade. It took 95,000 bricks, exactly the same as Monticello, even down to artificially cracking them to look like Jefferson’s. LaPlante had ten finishing carpenters who were minutely fussy, and excellent sub-contractors who all had the same attitude. “I want Bill LaPlante to put a plaque up so that future generations will know he built this,” Blake says.

Blake does not regret the expense of this project.

“I spent a fortune to build it but I don’t care if I get my money back. That’s not why I built it. I built it for posterity, not to live in it. It’s done wonders for the community. The house is lit up at night and people drive by and take photographs and are so proud of it.”

Perhaps what makes Blake happiest of all is that the house was completed by the holidays, allowing him to declare something few ever get to these days: “We had Christmas dinner at Monticello.”

(article written by Alan Bisbort)

Massachusetts Groundhog??!

So if it is not enough that we have now won the Super Bowl with the Patriots,we also now have our own groundhog  to predict the weather for the next six weeks! This is the story:

Ms. G’s Campaign for Massachusetts’s State Groundhog!

Longtime Boston TV Meteorologist Mish Michaels led the campaign to make Ms. G the State Groundhog for the Commonwealth. Ms. G’s official duties now include posting a forecast on February 2nd, Groundhog Day! Mish was joined on the campaign trail by her 8-year old daughter and her daughter’s classmates in Wellesley at the Hunnewell Elementary School.

Mish first met Ms. G, a resident of Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, back in 2007 while working with Mass Audubon on stories for WBZ related to the environment, weather, and climate change. Mish encouraged the Mass Audubon to host an annual Groundhog Day event featuring Ms. G. In 2008, Ms. G posted her first forecast on February 2nd. A star was born! In fact, Ms. G has had better local forecast accuracy with her “shadow/no shadow” forecast than Punxsutawney Phil way down in PA. It is Ms. G’s local weather expertise that inspired Mish to take on the role as Ms. G’s campaign manager.

In early 2013, Mish met with Wellesley Representative Alice Peisch to discuss the road ahead for Ms. G. The goal—not only to have a groundhog with local forecast expertise, but to encourage students to study weather by making Ms. G the official State Groundhog. Representative Peisch crafted language for the proposed bill, H.2864.

The Ms. G Bill was debated by the Senate on Thursday, July 17, 2014 and was overwhelmingly passed. First grade students from Hunnewell Elementary who helped lead the campaign were on the floor of the Senate to be part of this historic vote. Once the bill was passed, the students were treated to a standing ovation and many “high fives” by Senators.

On Monday, July 21, 2014, the Ms. G Bill passed both final House and Senate votes and on Thursday, July 31, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed H.2864, making Ms G the Official Massachusetts State Groundhog. Congratulations to the second graders at the Hunnewell School in Wellesley for their successful legislative campaign which started when they were in kindergarten!

You can buy Mish’s book on Amazon.com.

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