Archive for the 'Living Here' Category

Ice Cream Places Near Cambridge

ice cream coneIce Cream Places Near Cambridge  Hot weather’s on the way – and hot weather means ice cream. Hot and humid weather is the only excuse you need to satisfy your craving for a nice, big ice cream cone.

Here are some of my favorite spots for a cone. And since hot weather is also a good excuse for an air conditioned road trip (especially since I don’t have air conditioning at home!) these ice cream stands are outside of Cambridge, just a short drive away:

Bedford Farms in Bedford Center is one of my family’s favorites. Delicious ice cream, a place to sit on the lawn, and a quick drive from Cambridge.

Bedford Farms Ice Cream is located at 18 North Street, Bedford MA.  Open year round.  Check the website for more info. Summer hours are Mon – Sat 11am – 10pm and Sunday noon to 10pm.

Kimball Farm has three locations.  Carlisle is closest to Cambridge and a nice scenic drive.  There are farm animals to watch while you eat.  If you want to make a day of it and plan an outing for the entire family, the Westford location has a driving range, bumper boats, miniature golf, a midway with arcade games and more.  The location I know best is in Jaffrey NH where Kimball’s took over longtime favorite, Silver Ranch

Be warned – the kiddie cone at Kimball’s is most shops’ large.  You’ll be overwhelmed by the small size cone.  And large servings make for large crowds – the parking lot is often packed and the line long.

Check the Kimball Farm website for hours and more information.

Johnson’s Drive-in in Groton Mass was a pleasant surprise when we ended up there one night after a long day.  The fried clams were great and so was the ice cream.  It’s the kind of roadside joint I like – not too fancy (not at all in fact!), not expensive, and mighty tasty food.

Johnson’s is on Route 119 at 164 Boston Road, Groton MA.  Call 978-448-6840 for hours. 

I’m sure there are lots of fabulous ice cream places out there.  What are your favorites?

Categories: Living Here
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Franklin Street Park – Cambridge Parks – An Urban Oasis

Entrance to the Franklin Street Park in Cambridge Mass

Entrance to the Franklin Street Park in Cambridge Mass

Franklin Street Park on Franklin Street in the Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge Massachusetts is a lovely and unusual pocket park.  Measuring just 4400 sq.ft. the park is similar in size to the city house lots that line the street.

Before Franklin Street Park was rehabbed in 2003 it was a dark, gloomy space covered in large part with paving. The city held a number of meetings to solicit feedback from Cambridge residents about what they hoped the park would become. Goals in the reconstruction of the park included increasing safety, adding more natural elements in the park, adding play areas for kids, and making the park wheelchair accessible.

In 2004 the American Society of Landscape Architects’ magazine Landscape Architecture awarded the park an “Editors’ Choice” designation.

Today the park is a treat to discover.  From the granite entrance gate designed by Boston sculptor Murray Dewart to the unusual metal dome that seems to rise from the ground at the back of the lot – this park is full of surprises.

The park is green, lush and serene. There are places to sit, a water feature, and kid-friendly spaces.  That mysterious metal dome? It’s meant to be a space for kids to play and is surrounded by plastic grass.

The City of Cambridge’s Community Development Concept Plan in Spring 2002 gave this vision for the park project:

“The concept is to create an exciting and unique enclosed public open space that residents will discover and enjoy. A space for quiet reflection, reading a book, playing a game or watching a child play… A space with beautiful plantings, shade and visual interest… an urban oasis…”

A visit to Franklin Street Park confirms that the city has achieved its goals – the park is indeed an oasis – and a beautiful space to while away the afternoon.

Here are some more photos of Franklin Street Park:


This is the second in a series on Cambridge parks.  Here’s more:

The Smallest Park in Cambridge


Categories: Living Here
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Black Swallow-wort in Massachusetts – Join the Fight


Black Swallow-Wort on a Cambridge Chain Link Fence

Black Swallow-Wort on a Cambridge Chain Link Fence

It’s prime time in the war against Black Swallow-wort in Massachusetts – Swallowwort is flourishing in Massachusetts and there are large stands around Cambridge, Watertown, Medford and Somerville.

Black Swallow-wort is a very invasive plant that can take over a landscape and spread far if seeds are dispersed. Not only will it crowd out other plants but it has been shown to have a negative impact on songbird populations and on monarch butterflies.

I have a feeling that Black Swallow-wort thrives with a lot of rain because there’s a bumper crop out there.  The pods seem to have come out early – I found vines with maturing pods in June. 

Around the city it often seems that homeowners think that Swallowwort is an attractive vine.  In Cambridge and Somerville you often find the vines climbing over chain link fences – providing a wall of greenery that hides the chain link.  When we were on our weekly tour I spotted a new real estate listing in Watertown where a support had been carefully placed in the garden for a Swallow-wort vine.

You do NOT want to encourage Black Swallow-wort in your garden – and instead should mount a full scale campaign to eradicate it.

While it is an ongoing struggle to kill Black Swallow-wort – best done with liberal applications of Round-up – and lots of digging – now is the time to collect pods.

The first year I discovered swallow-wort in my yard I made the mistake of breaking off  the vines and leaving the pods. Unfortunately even when the vine is dead the pods will eventually open and disperse their fluff-borne seeds

Pounds of Swallow-Wort Pods

Pounds of Swallow-Wort Pods

Pods must be removed and burned or carefully bagged and disposed of in a landfill.

I have taken to carrying bags with me in order to collect pods.  This morning in Watertown Square I happened to pass a hedge with Swallow-wort vines growing in it.  By the time I was done I had collected over 2.5 POUNDS of pods!!

What Does Swallow-Wort Look Like?

  • Swallow-wort’s shiny green leaves come in pairs
  • The vine grows fast and will twine around fences and tree and bush branches
  • The pods are slim, smooth and green
  • When it flowers the vine has small, purple, star-shaped blossoms

Please join the fight!!  If you see swallow-wort pods – pluck them!  Swallow-wort will soon blanket Massachusetts if we don’t stem its spread.

Here are some more photographs of Black Swallow-wort found in Cambridge and Watertown:


Categories: Living Here
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Do You Need Air Conditioning In Cambridge?

Do you need air conditioning in Cambridge?  If you’re asking that question in the summer of 2009 the answer is No! I haven’t even taken the fans down from the attic.  But this summer is exceptional – usually we do get a few stretches of hot and humid weather.

Perhaps a fan will do in lieu of air conditioning in Cambridge

Perhaps a fan will do in lieu of air conditioning in Cambridge

But this is New England after all and you have to wonder – is air conditioning essential?  More and more buyers seem to think so. Me?  I’m not a fan (no pun intended!) of air conditioning at home.   It simply was never that common around here – nor should it be – the Northeast summers just don’t justify it.  My parents have never had it and as an adult I’ve had a/c only once in a condo I owned for just one year.  I’m not a fan of heat and humidity so I completely understand air conditioning’s allure but can’t justify the expense myself – or the lack of fresh air.   But to each their own – and if the house of my dreams happened to come with central air I’m sure come July or August I’d be delighted to be cool.

One of my new pet peeves is that newly constructed condo buildings in Massachusetts have been awarded various “green” certifications despite having air conditioning.  There is nothing green about home air conditioning in the Northeast.

Air conditioning at work or in public buildings is another story.  In the A/C temperature wars at work I’m firmly in the camp of colder-is-better. A/C in a real estate office that houses 50+ agents and even more pieces of office equipment is essential.  Energy dollars spent for the benefit of many people rather than a few makes all sorts of sense.

It seems that more people – in the interest of the environment and their pocketbooks – are foregoing air conditioning.  Today’s New York Times Home section had an article “The Unchilled Life” about this trend.  Several of those interviewed live in much hotter parts of the US.  Luckily for us in Cambridge, our older housing stock is often designed in a way that promotes natural cooling:

“Houses built before the 1960s, when widespread use of window air conditioners began, tended to incorporate many of the elements that make it easier to stay cool: higher ceilings, alignment of windows to facilitate cross-ventilation, more windows on the north side of the house than the sun-exposed south, and a large covered porch to shield the sunniest part of the house.”

There are some great tips in the article for surviving the hot days and nights sans A/C.  Read more tips for staying cool here.

In addition to the article about air conditioning or the lack thereof, today’s NYT Homesection had articles on the Brimfield flea market, a spread about a fabulous renovation of a lake house in New York, and a piece about a garden in Norwich Vermont.  Though it’s a bit slimmer nowadays, if you’re at all house-obsessed the Thursday New York Times is a weekly treat not to be missed.

In the end my method for dealing with the hottest of days is to spend plenty of time in my air conditioned real estate office in Cambridge. Stop on by – we’re at 171 Huron Ave in Cambridge.

Categories: Living Here

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Cambridge Pothole Hotline

City of Cambridge Pothole Hotline    I really love Cambridge city government.  So often I’m impressed by what the City of Cambridge offers to its residents.  And I’m doubly impressed when I see how low the property taxes are in Cambridge for a good portion of the city’s home owners.

One nifty service that Cambridge offers is a variety of hotlines. Simple – but really handy – who doesn’t want an official place to lodge complaints?  You would think that the need for the Cambridge Pothole Hotline would have passed since potholes proliferate in spring.  Not so however – there are still a lot of potholes out there, perhaps due in part to all the rain we’ve been getting.

If you spot a pothole in Cambridge call the DPW’s Pothole Hotline at 617-349-4854.

I also love youtube and have come to realize you can find just about anything there – like this video on how a pothole is formed (easily as it turns out – no wonder we have so many pot holes):




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Cambridge Parks – Do You Have A Key to the Smallest Park in Cambridge?

Taylor Square - The Smallest Park in Cambridge

Taylor Square - The Smallest Park in Cambridge

Cambridge has a wonderful variety of parks and playgrounds.  In the city every bit of green space is greatly appreciated. In the first in a series highlighting some of the parks around Cambridge we’ll check out the smallest park in Cambridge MA.

Cambridge’s Smallest Park

This tiny little park is  just a block from my Cambridge real estate office in front of the Engine 8, Ladder 4 Fire Station at the busy intersection of Huron Ave, Garden Street and Sherman Street.  Inside the locked gate of this grassy mini park – just 57 square feet in size – is a flag pole and a granite bench.

When I first heard about this park in miniature I thought it was some sort of exclusive park for neighbors – similar to locked parks for residents in the South End or Beacon Hill in Boston. 

Because the park is indeed locked – and some people received keys to the park in the mail.  Another real estate agent in my office knew someone who had received one of the mysterious keys.  What was his secret?  How did he score a key? 

Taylor Square – It’s Not Just a Park – It’s Art

Copy Me Keys at Taylor Square

Copy Me - Taylor Square Park Bench

When I took a closer look at the park and saw the bench pictured at right I realized something more was going on.  Inscribed on the granite bench are two keys – one says “Taylor Sq”, the other “Copy Me”.  Perhaps this wasn’t the exclusive private park I imagined it to be. Perhaps it was something more.

Sure enough, with a little bit of poking around online, I discovered that the park is indeed an art installation.  Envisioned by artist Paul Ramirez Jonas as a communal space, 5000 keys designed by Jonas were mailed to people in Cambridge.  Keys are also available at the Fire Station.  People are encouraged to copy the keys.  According to Jonas, “Taylor Square belongs to the public. It is closed, yet simultaneously open, re-emphasizing that the ownership of public space resides in the public itself.”

Did the artist successfully convey his message?  I’m not so sure given what I thought and felt about the park before discovering its secret.  But a park with a secret – and a message – is a good thing.  I’m going to go and ask a fireman for a key – and make a lot of copies!

A Cambridge fireman waters Cambridge's smallest park
A Cambridge fireman waters Cambridge’s smallest park


More local interest:

Categories: Living Here
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The Minuteman Library Network

The Minuteman Library Network - your ticket to read.

The Minuteman Library Network - your ticket to read.

I’ve always thought that one of the very best perks for living in Cambridge is membership in the Minuteman Library Network. Over the years when I moved around a lot as a renter whether or not the town or city belonged to the MLN was a factor when I considered towns to live in.

When you live in a Minuteman Library Network community your library card is your pass to libraries in 35 towns plus 6 college libraries. You’ll have full borrowing privileges – walk into any of the libraries and it’s as if you lived there – your library card works just like it does at your home library.

It’s a great excuse to visit some of the excellent town libraries around Massachusetts. There’s wonderful original library architecture in local libraries plus lots of modern upgrades since Massachusetts has renovated and expanded many of its libraries over the years.

And if you don’t want to get out and about you can access the holdings of all 41 libraries in the combined online catalog.

The Minuteman Library Network has continued to grow over the years since it was established in 1982. All of the towns around Cambridge belong to the network including Arlington, Belmont, Medford, Somerville and Watertown.

So – if you’ve just moved to Cambridge – be sure to get your library card– it’s your ticket to read – the Minuteman Library Network member libraries own over 6 million items.

Categories: Living Here

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Black Swallowwort is Invading Cambridge

swallowwort-in-CambridgeMy nemesis – black swallowwort – is popping up all over Cambridge.  I’ve been out and about in the last few days and found patches of it in many front yards in Cambridge. And no question about it – it’s in Somerville, Medford, and Arlington too.  In fact, it’s becoming an issue all over Massachusetts.

Black swallowwort looks a bit like milkweed.  But instead of the fuzzy, lumpy pods of regular milkweed the swallowwort seed pods are thinner and smooth, shiny green.  It’s a rapidly growing vine and if allowed to flourish will produce numerous pods. Last summer I would find large stands of swallow-wort covering chain link fences and dripping with pods.  Unfortunately I think some people actually like it since it does do a good job of covering up those chain link fences.

I found black swallowwort in my yard a couple of years ago but didn’t know what it was at the time.  But it was growing so fast – twining around other plants, sprouting up everywhere I looked – that I searched online for it.  I was horrified by what I learned.  Search for it online and you’ll be ready for all out war after you learn more about it.

Black swallowwort is extremely invasive.  It will push out other vegetation and is hard to eradicate.  Like regular milkweed, the seeds from pods that are allowed to remain on the vines will spread all over the neighborhood.  Your neighbor’s swallowwort is your problem too.   Let it thrive and soon it will be all over the neighborhood pushing out other plants. 

Swallowwort is not only a threat to vegetation – it is also believed to threaten the viability of monarch butterflies.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and are thought to mistake swallowwort for milkweed.  Caterpillars hatched on swallow-wort do not survive however.

The first year I found this invader in my yard I made the mistake of breaking off the vines but leaving them to wither with the pods still attached.  Unfortunately, even if the vine is dead, the pods will still eventually release their seeds.  The pods must be removed and disposed of carefully – I wrapped them up in foil or tightly closed bags. Some recommend burning.

Last year I went on an anti-swallowwort crusade.  Anywhere I went I would pull off pods and filled bags with them.  I listed a house for sale in Cambridge that had black swallowwort climbing everywhere in the garden.  I filled trash bags with the vines.  Once I started to look I found it everywhere – all over Cambridge, Somerville, Medford and Arlington. 

I’ll post more photos of swallowwort as it matures.  The picture taken above was taken in Cambridge in mid-May.  Right now the pods aren’t out but the flowers are on the vine. The flowers are small and purple. The leaves are spade shaped and shiny green – sort of like lilac leaves but shinier.  The way the vine will curl around whatever it comes in contact with is very distinctive.

If you see pods when you’re out and about – pick them and dispose of them.  If you discover swallowwort in your yard the only effective method of eradication is repeated sprayings of herbicide.  Pulling the vines will not work – there is a large underground network of roots and you can’t stay ahead of it by pulling it.  Get an industrial sized bottle of herbicide and get ready to do battle.

Categories: Living Here
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