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. . . .

—- —-

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



000 sally by zoe headshot

We are now the envy of America — the trees are going pyrotechnical, and soon the leaf peepers
will be roaring up the shady lanes to admire the flaming trees. Meanwhile, we are looking at our
rakes and wondering, “what’s the point.” The acknowledged method for dealing with leaves, by the way,
is now just to run them over with a mower at the end of the season and let the compost break down
in the soil.

This season in Tri-town, there’s plenty of educational and musical offerings as well as the
annual Greek Festival. I was on “Barbara and You,” the local cable access show (the longest
running interview show in New England) and Barbara Foster was interviewing folks from the
Greek Church before I went on with my cat Wendle to talk about the Sept. 28 Rabies Clinic. They
were on first and they left — no joke — a table’s worth of Greek pastry real estate for the
crew. Homemade Greek pastries, baklava (paklava for those of us who are Armenian), kateouf (there
are many spellings for this; it’s the shredded birds’ nest pastry) and various honey cakes were
amazing. They’ll be making lots more for their festival this weekend.

The Free Rabies Clinic is open to anyone; you don’t have to live in Fitchburg. I’ll be there
with my friends from ACE Central MA (need a cat or dog? check us out…). And if you look at, you’ll see a very, very, very special offer for those folks looking
to get a cat for a BARGAIN price.

See you under the leaves


“A History of the Fitchburg Fire Department” by Phil Jordan, Official Fire Historian for the
FFDFriday Nights in Fitchburg History Club, 6 – 7:30 pm, McKay Campus, 67 Rindge Rd., in Bldg. C.
Phil is the author of “A History of the Fitchburg Fire Department” published in 2012. He
exhaustively planned, researched and prepared this “labor of love,” now sold out. The book
begins in 1674, when Fitchburg incorporated as a town and traces its fire history through the
years. This program will show many historic slides that relate to the stories of famous fires
as the history progresses to the present time.Jordan presents a fascinating look at the amazing
fires fought to save lives and property, with dedication and sacrifice, by our brave heroes –
Fitchburg Firefighters! FREE, refreshments. It is handicapped-accessible, with plenty of free
parking. Contact Dot Cassady at 781-245-1516 or for more information.


GREEK FEST 2013, 11 am – 10 pm Rain or Shine! Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 1319 Main
Street, Fitchburg, 978-342-1216. Enjoy All Your Homemade Greek Favorites: Souvlaki, Gyro,
Pastitsio, Mousaka, Spinach Pie, Baklava, Galaktombureko, Loukoumades, and Other Great
Desserts, Coffee, Beer & Wine and Much, Much More!! Music and Dancing, Music by DJ George
Regan. Performances by our own Floga Dance Groups at 2 pm and 7 pm. Children will enjoy the
activities of our expanded children’s booth! Shop for Unique Gifts at our Agora and Vendor Market.
Raffles, Chinese Auctions, Gift Baskets, TONS of fun prizes! Church tours at 1:00pm and 6:00pm
Enter our Grand Prize Raffle-You could win: Grand prize -$5,000; 1st Prize – $1,000; 2nd Prize –
$500; 3rd prize – an Apple iPad Tickets are $100 ea.- Only 250 tickets will be sold! To buy
tickets or for more information call the Church Office: 978-342-1216. Buy Yours Now Before We
Sell Out!

Drawbridge Puppet Theater”s  “Rapunzel” every weekend in September – as well as each Wednesday
of the month. This production, using marionettes, hand puppets and shadow puppets, is suitable for
children 4 years of age and older. Weekend shows will be Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 AM & 12:00
PM. Storytelling with Lisa Thompson. This will take place on September 21st from 11:00 to 11:30,
and is free with your ticket to the puppet show that day.Ticket prices for these weekend public
shows are $6.00 per person. Please note: We can only accept payment by cash or check, though you
may pay online using PayPal if you wish. Drawbridge Puppet Theater, 1335 Massachusetts Ave
(Rt. 2A), Lunenburg, 978-582-1578


Historical Piano Concerts from The Frederick Collection of Grand Pianos at 4 pm at Ashburnham
Community Church, Ashburnham. 978/827-6232. SHUNSKE SATO, violin
and SHUANN CHAI, piano by Joh. Nepomuk Tröndlin, Leipzig (ca. 1830) play Felix Mendelssohn Sonata in f for piano & violin, Op. 4 (1825); Franz Schubert Sonata in A for piano & violin, D.574 (1817) “Grand Duo”; Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata
in a for piano & violin, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”.

Drawbridge Puppet Theater”s  “Rapunzel” every weekend in September – as well as each Wednesday
of the month. This production, using marionettes, hand puppets and shadow puppets, is suitable for
children 4 years of age and older. Weekend shows will be Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 AM & 12:00
PM. Ticket prices for these weekend public shows are $6.00 per person. Please note: We can only
accept payment by cash or check, though you may pay online using PayPal if you wish.
Drawbridge Puppet Theater, 1335 Massachusetts Ave (Rt. 2A), Lunenburg, 978-582-1578


BASIC RIGHTS In Special Education. A Workshop for Parents and Professionals Fitchburg Special
Education Department In Collaboration with the Federation with children with special needs. The
Basic Rights workshop provides families with an introduction to their rights and responsibilities
under: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Massachusetts Special Education
Law. This workshop is designed to help parents learn to be effective partners with their child’s
school to decide their child’s eligibility for special education, and to plan, make decisions
and monitor their child’s progress in South Street School, 376 South Street,
Fitchburg, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Contact: for questions.
A presenter from the Federation for Children with Special Needs will conduct this workshop.
Federation workshops are free and open to the public.  You are welcome to attend any workshop
in or outside of your immediate community. Join us!


LET’S PLAY! MOC Community Partnership for ChildrenParent/Child Play Group, Thursdays, 10:00-11:30AM,
Cleghorn Youth Center, 40 Fairmount St., Fitchburg, FREE. “Family and Friends”
theme.Always: easel paint, sand or water play, blocks and trucks, stories, play dough and
Or call 978-345-8549 x325 or x326A program of the Massachsuetts Dept. of Early Education and Care


FREE Rabies Clinic/$5 Distemper (covers a variety including parvo) clinic sponsored by Second
Chance, from a generous grant provided by the ASPCA, assisted by FAShelter and ACE Central MA
at Fitchburg Fire Station, 20 North St. Fitchburg. For more, visit ACE Central MA at

FINNISH BREAKFAST, 8:00-10:30  a.m.  Bacon, sausage, pannukakku (oven pancake), fruit, juice,
coffee/tea, Finnish coffee bread.  $6.00.  Saima Park, 61 Scott Rd., Fitchburg MA 01420.  978 582-7717


Historical Piano Concerts from The Frederick Collection of Grand Pianos at 4 pm at Ashburnham
Community Church, Ashburnham. 978/827-6232. THOMAS PANDOLFI, Frederick
Collection premiere of a piano by Erard, Paris, 1928 plays “Gershwin & the French Muse.” George
Gershwin/transcr. Grace Castagnetta Concerto in F (1925); Three Preludes (1926); Rhapsody in Blue
(1924; solo version 1927); Claude Debussy from Suite Bergamasque (1890-1905) 3. Clair de Lune;
from Préludes, Bk. 1 (1910) 10. La cathédrale engloutie; Francis Poulenc Trois mouvements
perpetuels (1918); Marie-Joseph-Alexandre Déodat de Séverac Grande valse brillante in Eb, Op. 18
“Pippermint-Get” – ded. to distiller Auguste Get père; Maurice Ravel from Le tombeau de Couperin
(1914-17) 3. Forlane (Allegretto).

Drawbridge Puppet Theater”s  “Rapunzel” every weekend in September – as well as each Wednesday
of the month. This production, using marionettes, hand puppets and shadow puppets, is suitable for
children 4 years of age and older. Weekend shows will be Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 AM & 12:00
PM. Ticket prices for these weekend public shows are $6.00 per person. Please note: We can only
accept payment by cash or check, though you may pay online using PayPal if you wish.
Drawbridge Puppet Theater, 1335 Massachusetts Ave (Rt. 2A), Lunenburg, 978-582-1578

—- Sally Cragin / Fitchburg




Growing up in Lunenburg, MA, population around 5000 with no streetlights in my youth (now there are at least a half-dozen), I couldn’t wait to get to the big city. And when I got there I became a journalist, first a rock critic, than an arts reviewer. I’m writing about these experiences on the Phoenix alumni page on Facebook (email me at if you want the installments. It’s pretty funny — a coming of age story provisionally titled “Teenage Typesetter on the Night Shift.”

Of course now I’m a mom in a mini-van, making my living as Symboline Dai, STILL writing for the surviving Phoenixes (Portland, ME and Providence, RI). And I’m doing what I said I’d never do, which is living in my homeland.

My husband and I live in Fitchburg — yes, we’re a stop on the Commuter Rail. We have gorgeous Gilded Age housing stock for tiny, tiny sums (houses go from $40k to $200 and up), a great mayor, our friend Lisa Wong, and superb and constantly improving public schools. Recently, Fitchburg State College upgraded to a University, and I spend my Tuesdays overseeing Riverfront Children’s Theatre, which I co-founded with my mom. We have an 85 year old Community theatre, Stratton Players, tons of hiking trails, we’re 5 minutes from Mount Wachusett, you can finally get a decent cup of coffee, and I’m very active in ACE, a group I started. ACE Central MA is a volunteer group that assists the Shelter animals of north central Mass and presents school programs to ALL the kids in school (last year, more than 5000 kids heard our message). More at

So Here and Sphere’s editor asked for info on what’s going on here. Answer : Lots!
The Historical Piano Concerts up in Ashburnham is the big winner. They’ve been written up in the NYTimes, and years ago, when Patricia and Michael, the owners only had, say 30 historical pianos, I wrote a piece about them for the Globe. Their concert series is broadcast on public radio and takes place in an acoustically resonant Congregational Church in the center of Ashburnham. There’s more at, but here’s a sampling of what you’ll find this month….
Come visit!

Sally Cragin

FITCHBURG ART MUSEUM sponsors’ Nora Valdez’s public art celebration, 1 to 3 pm, Prichard and Main Street, Fitchburg, FREE. Public Art Installation, and discussion. Refreshments, dancing, fun, and food! FREE

Historical Piano Concerts from The Frederick Collection of Grand Pianos at 4 pm at Ashburnham Community Church, Ashburnham. 978/827-6232. MIHAI TETEL, violoncello & IRA BRAUS, piano by Caspar Katholnig, Vienna, ca. 1805-1810 play Ludwig van Beethoven Twelve variations in G on See, the conqu’ring hero, WoO 45 (1796), from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, HWV 63 (1746); Andante con variazioni in D for mandoline & harpsichord, WoO 44/2b (1796), arr. Steven Isserlis; Twelve variations in F, Op. 66, on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, and Seven variations in Eb, WoO 46 (1801), on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, both from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, K.620 (1798); Franz Joseph Haydn Divertimento in D (misc. movements transcr. by Gregor Piatigorsky); Luigi Boccherini Sonata No. 4 in A for violoncello & Bc, G4 (ca.1770).

>^^< STORIES AND SHELTER CATS, Fitchburg Library 4:30 pm (immediately after LEGO club). MEET a shelter cat, HEAR a cat story, MAKE a cat-related craft. Sponsored by ACE and Fitchburg Friends of Felines.

Annual Tori/Finnish Marketplace, 10:00 a.m.- 3:00 p.m. Finnish and Scandinavian wares and pastries, arts and crafts. Local vendors and folks from out of town. This is a great occasion to get holiday gifts, as well as unique crafts from overseas at really reasonable prices. The BEST bread in the world, “pulla” will be on sale. For those who grew up here, you may remember the Finnish Co-Op where the Post Office now is in downtown Fitchburg. That’s where I had pulla during my childhood and became Finnish-by-proxy. At the Tori, you’ll find beef stew, vegetable soup, hot dogs, coffee & Finnish coffee bread, Arctic sundaes. Finnish Center at Saima Park, 61 Scott Rd., Fitchburg, MA 01420. Call or email Maija at 978 582-7717 or

—- Sally Cragin — Blog 810