Still here! On the sphere…. Which is increasingly snow-covered.

Here are some bullet-points from the North County. Where you can ski. Cheaply or for free.

Wachusett has their end of season deal where you get a full pass for $139. I was there with my kids last weekend skiing on a senior pass (hey, it works) but a good friend who works there is adding my crew to her friends and family pass for the rest of the season and now I’m out of my mind with frustration because since then it’s rained, or I’m busy. We got 3 inches last night so the hope is to GET THERE sometime this weekend. We’ll see. . . .

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In other news, our friend Representative Stephen DiNatale just sent out a reception card for an April event. He was the first person to speak out against a group trying to impose a charter school here when we had public hearings at the library. Yes, I know. Many of you are in Boston and have a different view of charters. Out where we are, the formula is such that cities like Fitchburg, Lawrence and Lowell, Fall River, Holyoke and Springfield and Worcester have a lot of English language learners, special education, transience and poverty and special ed.

Guess what ? by the way the state currently reckons things, we’ll ALWAYS be in the bottom ten percent. Senator Patricia Jehlen of Somerville is working on a communication to go to the Commissioner requesting that district scoring methods be altered to reflect a more accurate assessment which includes GROWTH versus ACHIEVEMENT.

What does that mean? Growth means that a student who comes in September with all those needs (ELL, SPED, etc.) and works hard with talented and dedicated teachers and rises from “failing to the lower end of “proficient” or even the upper end or “exemplary” will be judged on that. Not on whether he had a good day with the MCAS. That’s achievement and that measures one day, not 180 days.
What else ? Time to take my daughter to school.

NOTE : the file that Cragin refers to in this portion of her report could not be opened with our software. Wen we locate a program to o[pen it, we will embed the file in this story. Thank you for your patience — the editors.)

Here’s Hector and Theresa and Bear. (sorry if pic is fuzzy! Everyone moves quickly…)

This is a picture of Bear (the little pup), his owners Hector Vargas and CNA Theresa Neuhaus. These three have joined our ACE in the Schools program as Bear is a service dog. ACE stands for Animal Care and Education. We help shelter animals, animals in need and educate school children and families about pet care responsibility.

Hector was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair his WHOLE life. Bear alerts him whenever a seizure is coming on OR tries to get him to revive from a seizure AND alerts Theresa, who is Hector’s live-in CNA and a friend of his from high school. It’s an extraordinary story. Bear was at Fitchburg Animal Shelter last fall, and Shelter Manager Amy Egeland knew that Bear had a “special purpose,” but she didn’t know what that was until Theresa called looking for a service dog for Hector.

Hector grew up in Fitchburg, and is currently 37 years old. He had troubles in school but eventually received his diploma and every day fights some really serious health battles.

This morning, Bear, Hector and Theresa spoke to two groups of kids at Memorial middle school today and kids got to meet Bear afterwards. All told, more than 600 kids!! Thank you Hector J. Vargas and Theresa Neuhaus for sharing your story. It touched a lot of kids and Bear was really great in an unpredictable environment. The kids asked great questions including how many cats and dogs the Shelter saves and what food to feed their pet.

We are encouraging ALL the kids at ALL the schools we speak to to start an ACE club!! The sad part of this visit was hearing from too many kids about neighbors who tether a dog on a porch or outside. However, it is great to get clear information to kids — that their pets will live LONGER if spayed and neutered and that if you can’t take care of an animal it’s okay to surrender to the Shelter rather than turning it out. Smart kids, smart questions, a great morning for all.

And enormous thanks to Hector and Theresa who took the Mart bus to Parkhill Plaza and then hoofed it all the way to Memorial. They are a great team and the kids who heard their story were very affected by it.

— Sally Cragin / The Tri-Town Report


Is it February? Is it March? Or is it still January, the month with a heavy tread. My editor requested a blog post a while ago, and then it snowed, and the kids were home and then I had a bug and then it snowed… And on it goes. Living in the north central portion of the state is a very different proposition than living further east. If you look at Massachusetts as a miniature version of the map of the US, yes, we’re in the midwest where people are cranky, vs. Bostonian pissed-offedness. And geographically, we’d be somewhere around North Dakota, among the frozen chosen.

So January, February…it’s all a blur. There’s Groundhog Day which means we get an extra 60 days of winter, vs. 6 weeks; and then Valentine’s Day — which as I keep reminding single-gal friends is a HOLIDAY FOR CHILDREN, and really only meaningful on February 15, when the chocolates go on half-price, and then there’s my wedding anniversary to Chuck, somewhere around February twenty….first? No — it’s 26th. That’s when it was.

See? a blur….

So what do we do to survive this mentally? I cross-country ski at Saima Park. Here’s the thing — skis are generally cheap; it’s the bindings and boots that cost. I have the skates in the car, but haven’t gotten to our local rink, the Carmelita Landry. She was a national champion in outdoor speed skating! look it up!)
X-c at Saima Park ( is free on Saturdays in February from 10 am to 3 pm. They open the clubhouse, and there are lots of friendly Finns there to advise, or to help you borrow (not rent — this is FREE) skis to set you up. Some years, the snow is terrible, but this was a great year, and I’ve been several times a week. Yes, it helps to drive the momavan which can fit skis and a lot of the clothes my children discard in the car because they’re “too hot.”

Indoor activities are what most people like. This year, I started a venue at Fitchburg Library, “Author’s Night.” We have published authors come and read from work and talk about writing and publishing. Dunkin Donuts supplies refreshments and it’s fun. If you’re a published author, email me at We’re also planning a May event that will focus on Fitchburg History, as the city is 250 years old this year.

And, I’m working on a few things politically — getting signatures for Senator Jen Flanagan, evaluating Democratic candidates for governor. We had our caucus last week and several people came out to speak, including Mary Ellen Grossman, Steve’s sister. She’s a dynamo and I’ve sent information to her to give to the Treasurer about the woefully skewed standards applied to urban districts like Fitchburg in terms of standardized test scores. We’ll never get ahead, because we have lower BEGINNING scores and higher poverty. We are expected to close wider gaps, which less-challenged districts (also less culturally diverse) aren’t expected to do. Senator Pat Jehlen of Somerville is working on this issue, and I and other members of our school committee will help. This is an issue that Mayor Lisa Wong, who helped start the Gateway Initiative to organize the leadership of urban Massachusetts is very concerned with.
So, I guess we are doing a lot, besides living whole days in a cloud-inflected color free twilight. We really notice that extra minute of daylight out here. For more, visit And thanks to my editor for reminding me. You’ll have to keep doing that you know…



Sally Cragin
mother of two
Fitchburg School Committee vice-chair
Editor of Button, New England’s tiniest magazine of poetry, fiction and gracious living
astrology columnist for the Portland and Providence Phoenix
winter survivor



Here in North Worcester County, the land of the frozen chosen, January can (seem to) last several months. And so, if you have your wits about you, you’ll take up a winter sport. My husband and son ski at Mt. Wachusett, and I cross-country, when the snow is fine. And my daughter, age 4.5 (or, as she says Four and a half and three quarters) would happily ski down our front yard over and over. You know who we are? We’re the part of Massachusetts that receive a foot of snow, when those in Boston are quivering about an anticipated six inches. And then reality hits, which is that the nor’easter bypasses Boston and heads straight for the middle part of the state, and we end up getting 18 inches.


You know what that looks like? Curved forms, verses liner. Henry Moore sculpture that’s constantly changing. I’m writing this now, in the middle of the “Polar Vortex” (which, frankly, sounds like a hair metal band I might have seen at Bunratty’s way back when) and noticing all the snow on the trees is gone.

So what we do is head to The Finnish Center at Saima Park to go through the trails. They’re cool with snowshoers as well. Or stay indoors and work on textile projects (e.g., quilting, which seems to have a huge following out here). When I was growing up there were several stores devoted exclusively to fabric. In the era of the mighty-mall, you can find remnants at Michael’s and Joanne’s, but my preference is getting those shrunken wool sweaters at Goodwill and making stuffed animals.

And if you want to go out, come to Fitchburg Public Library on January 25, 4:15 pm for “Stories and Shelter Cats.” This is produced by ACE, Animal Care and Education, the group I founded to help look out for stray and homeless animals and educate school kids ( We have information on how to adopt a dog or cat. Visit ace-central ma on Facebook — excellent pet advice and sharing.

Speaking of animals — you see that picture? You see that picture? It shows a winding trail that was all that remained after the sun melted the first six inches of snow. That’s a mouse-track, heading straight to our compost heap. The shadowy form underneath? That’s a moose track. I have no idea when these two paths intersected, but I’m very, very sorry to have missed this.

— Sally Cragin / The Tri-Town Reprt

Sally Cragin writes the astrology column “Moon Signs” for the Portland and Providence Phoenix newspapers and is reachable at



We’ve had a dusting or too of ESSENNOOUCH, but the big guns (e.g., the storms that are advertised as 4 inches for you, that turn into 18 inches for us) are yet to be seen. Not a problem — I can’t remember whether the big-tread tires are on the front wheels as they should be. Should ask my husband. These decisions matter out here in the land of no-reliable-public-transportation but beautiful scenery and sincere folks.

A lot has gone on since my last entry, and if you’re interested in theatre, come see a charming production of Christmas Carol every weekend in December leading up to Xmas at Stratton Players (currently housed in the UU church at the top of the Common, Main Street, Fitchburg). for more. Also, a group of artists is having a discussion on la vie boheme on Tuesday, December 10, 6:30 pm at The Kiln, 353 Main Street, Fitchburg. This is a glass shop this is also (shhh) a head shop! I was so delighted when owner Michael Flanagan talked about their wares. He brought an amazing box of glass-made items by local glass artists — the kind of work you’d see under the glass cases at Harvard’s MCZ (anatomically correct milkweed caterpillar, surrealist beads, etc). This is free, and more on Facebook if you go to my site.

The bigger story is that a group of people are trying to launch a charter school here in Fitchburg. This would be a K-4 and is utterly unnecessary and redundant, particularly since 3 of our 7 schools moved up a level in the state testing, and one K-4; Crocker Elementary was voted #5 of the top 15 elementary schools by We had a public hearing and a lot of people spoke on behalf of FPS — eloquent testimony by parents and students, teachers and administrators, that really brought the point home to the DOE Board who was in attendance that FPS are very much on the right track. Since then, I have been doing research on charter schools and truly impressed by how their lobbyists have effectively commod-ified a public service. The last motherlode of public money was protected — until Ed. Reform! And so, we get egregious examples like the so called “STEAM STUDIO” charter project trying to launch in Andover (a top-tier public school system — but the folks who want their charter school want to limit further the number of kids who can take advantage of public money), and various frequent-flyers in the application process.

Our Representative, Stephen DiNatale, our Senator, Jen Flanagan, our Mayor Lisa Wong, our School Committee, our City Council have all voted against this proposed charter school, and we have lively meetings every week of “Fitchburg Public Schools First” (FPS 1) to discuss our ongoing support of public schools.

DOE makes this decision in February, so we have some weeks to go and if I’m not out and about doing cool things, I’m hunkered down protecting the public schools and the education of 5100 kids that I swore to protect six years ago when elected School Committee. Happy Hanukkah/holidays to all.

more at

— Sally Cragin / News from Tri-town