Sunday, January 30, 2011

Little Engineers LEGO Camp


2011 already, no wait, it is almost February...  It is amazing how fast things seem to move.  I have a few things over the holiday season that I wanted to comment on my full time job, and the MOUNDS of snow have kept me busy.

Lets start this years posts with details from LEGO Camp.  I was in Central One before Christmas and noticed a display for LEGO Camp at the Boroughs JCC.  Having a kindergartner, LEGOs already fill my house.  There are in the couch cushions, under the table, and of course in storage bins in the playroom.  I was a LEGO man myself in younger days and really enjoyed building and creating so the opportunity for a LEGO camp sounded great.

The camp was run through a partnership with Play-well TEKnologies.  They are based out of CA but have locations all over the US.  The program run this winter at the Boroughs JCC was targeted for grades K - 3 and run at the same facility the Boroughs JCC Preschool occupies. 

Overall, I was amazed at the program, the Boroughs JCC involvement, and the absolute delight my kindergartner experienced.  But let me give you all some specific examples.  First lets start with the the Blizzard of 2010.  Unfortunately the first day of the program was interrupted by the snowstorm on 12/26 and 12/27.  But the Boroughs JCC staff contacted all parents, posted credit policies on both their website and Facebook, and insured the rest of the week was more then enough to make up for it.  The week started out with the kids learning about the different types of pieces and key building techniques.  The way the camp works, children would build two projects a day but as we all know LEGOs are expensive so at the end of the day they broke down the projects as part of the cleanups.  The Boroughs JCC had a solution for this, they took photos each day with each project and sent them home with the kids so they could show their family and friends.  For kids that signed up for the full week of camp, the Boroughs JCC created a photo book individualized for each child.  It was a great cap on the camp week.  Below is a video from the vacation week, I took off the Boroughs JCC site.  This way you can see for yourself some of the excitement.

During the winter break from 9AM to 2PM my son was in delight.  It  is now almost 4 weeks later and he still talks about the program regularly, and his interest in LEGO is never been higher.  He even took the photo book to school when it was his turn to share.  I know the Boroughs JCC is planning on running more LEGO programs this summer and I am excited to sign him up again.  For February they are partnering with FasTracKids to run an astronomy program.  Based on the last success I am excited to see what they have planned next.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Westborough Patch

This afternoon I was on twitter (yes I know I have been very sporadic in my tweets) but I was on twitter and noticed one of the suggestions for me to follow was Westborough Patch.  Since I am always looking for local updates and information sources I figured I would check it out.  I had not heard of "Patch" before.


Ok so maybe I missed a memo that Westborough Patch was launching, but I am busy sometimes... I have to say, I am very impressed at this new online news site.  Seems to have regular updates, Westborough news and events, and from what I have read lots of great information.  There is also a Northborough Patch as well.

The sites are simple and easy to navigate.  There are also matching Facebook pages and twitter accounts for each site.  Their coverage of the Polar Plunge was solid and overall the only thing I would say is not appealing to me is that Patch as a company is owned by AOL.  Sure I use AIM like so many others, but the last time I thought of AOL I was using one of their cds as a drink coaster.

I hope AOL has learned from some of their past endeavors and keeps Patch fresh and not overly bogged down with ads and bots.  I think there is a lot of potential for a strong corporate funded journalistic team that focused on digital media.  Something with funding that can allow local journalists to be proud and promote the local community.

To speculate for a minute, I think there is a lot of opportunity for really interesting social media interconnections blending online and real world experiences and interactions.  It is the next logical step in the digital media space.  It is possible that a site like patch operating nationally (and even globally) but focused locally can be a way to organize and encourage these connections.  We'll see...I actually teach a graduate course  on new media technologies and how to integrate them.  At least I need to add Patch to some of my lectures and we can see how it plays out.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Refreshing Plunge

My wife definitely understands me... she called on Friday during my commute to see if I had noticed the DPW sign in the traffic circle promoting the Polar Plunge.  :-)

I had not seen the sign yet, but I was aware of the Polar Plunge and to no ones surprise I was hoping to participate in the event.  As soon as I arrived home I sent a mail over to the organizers of the event that I was also interested in acting ridiculous and running into Lake Chauncy after it was already frozen.

On Saturday afternoon, armed with my camera, I went over to Lake Chauncy to meet some of the other plungers and cool off in the lake.  The event included a bonfire, snacks, and performances from local a capella talent.  Then of course there were the plungers.  Along with bathing suit plungers there was an assortment of costumes at the event; T-shirts promoting local businesses, grass skirts, homemade gladiator hats, life-jackets with shoes attached, and even a master's degree cap and gown took turns running into cold water.  There wasn't a lot of swimming as organizers of the plunge only removed the 4 inch think ice from a small section of the lake but everyone plunged for a good cause.

The event is small, only a couple dozen or so plungers, but there are a bunch of spectators and the atmosphere was great.  Local people supporting a local cause.  The sound system was not super conducive for the singers, but for a capella groups each person needs to have a mic or it is hard to hear how great the voices sound.  Here are some of the photos I got at the event.

This event is only in it's second year, I am sure it will become bigger and bigger as it continues.  The Polar Plunge raises money for "In Your Shoes Westborough".  From their literature:

In Your Shoes Mission & Goals
The mission of In Your Shoes is to make a difference in our community by contributing time, talents and monetary resources to provide assistance and financial support to local people in need. In essence, we represent an investment in our Westborough community, as we foster and advocate volunteerism to contribute to the health and well being of Westborough residents. 

In Your Shoes goals:
  • Encourage community among ourselves and the people we serve. 
  • Reach out to our community to educate and increase awareness about local needs. 
  • Promote volunteerism and effective philanthropy.
  • Build a network of people and businesses that is a catalyst of positive change. 
  • Direct charitable donations toward the most worthy local causes, also donating funds to other non-profit organizations that benefit Westborough residents.
As expected I love volunteering and participating in community.  Especially the Boroughs communities.  I look forward to another plunge next year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Super Science Sundays

Last weekend I signed my boys up for the November installment of the Science Sunday series at the Boroughs JCC.  The event was promoted as bringing the Museum of Science "REPTILES" traveling show to Westborough.  Having two boys, how could I go wrong with an afternoon of lizards and snakes.  I am happy to say this event was far more then the MoS show, and I am super impressed with the quality and value of this program.

The main promotional attraction as I mentioned was the MoS traveling show.  Reptiles was cool, there was a lizard, a turtle, and a large snake.  The representative from the Museum of Science was interesting and the crowd enjoyed his presentation.  The 45 minute interactive talk was fun for the kids.  I am proud of the BJCC for bringing the MoS to Westborough.  It was convenient and fun, but as I said the real value in this event was the science that went on before the MoS presentation.

The Boroughs JCC found several Boroughs scientists (most who worked in Cambridge) to volunteer their time and conduct a series of hands on experiments for kids and adults.  These are real scientists, not technologists or doctors.  Not there is anything wrong with technologists (I am one) and doctors are impressive in many ways, but this event was staffed with scientists...people who have made their career investigating, experimenting, and (flashback to high school coming) testing hypothesizes.  It is easy for kids to get excited about sports and the sports programs in the Boroughs are great.  Band stereotypes aside, I always thought music is easy to get excited about as well, especially with great local entertainers like Mr. Kim Webster, who not only entertains but teaches young kids music fundamentals.  To me science is harder.  It requires someone with specific know how and patience to show kids in a way that is exciting and hands on.  And a lot of times even with practice science can go wrong.  :-)  That makes it more fun.  The event at the BJCC had all the elements of fun science and I am so glad I was able to take my boys.

Making slime, blowing up balloons with chemical reactions, creating geometrical shapes, and several other hands on projects kept kids and adults smiling.  This event cost $20 per family for members of the JCC and $30 per family for non-members.  Considering admission to the MoS is not cheap, this was a deal just for the reptiles and a steal when you add the experiments. 

The Science Sunday series is a new program this year at the Boroughs JCC as they expand to be more focused on the whole community.  Last month the BJCC offered discount admission to the EcoTarium Pumpkin festival in Worcester.  I can't wait to see what is planned for their next Science Sunday event.

Details on the next event are not published yet but you can keep an eye out at or become a fan of the Boroughs JCC on Facebook.  They are good about publishing all events on the Facebook page and from what I have seen all events are open to the public.  However, they are cheaper if you are a member of the Boroughs JCC

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy One Year - Tavolino Westborough

For about a year now :-), I have been a supporter of Tavolino Italian Gourmet in Westborough.  Last week I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of the one year anniversary events and celebrate with the managers and staff.  I still stand by my original review of the food and experience at Tavolino.  I enjoy drinks with friends,  dinner with my family, or one of the many events Tavolino hosts.

The biggest things that impresses me about Tavolino I think comes back to the people in charge.  It is obvious that Anthony Valletta (Tavolino Westborough GM) and his staff really care about Westborough.  They are proud to be part of this community.  I know Anthony grew up in Westborough but his commitment to our community is obvious.  Every time I participated in a local community event, I find Tavolino.  Some of the great organizations in the local area benefit from Tavolino.  I am just proud to see this type of commitment to the local community.  Kudos to Anthony, and to the owners of Tavolino for showing Anthony the freedom to support he local community.

The anniversary celebration, was as expected, a wonderful evening.  Great food, great wine, and great local people.  I noticed editors from, representatives from the Boys & Girls club, and events staff from the Boroughs JCC.  I spent some time enjoying a Radeberger Beer with the local Radeberger reps and the reps from Boulder Beer who coincidentally have also been active local supporters of Boroughs events.

I look forward to more years and more events with Tavolino in Westborough.  If you are still one of the hold outs, I suggest you at least try Tavolino pizza for take out.  It doesn't kill the wallet and can definitely be something different.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parents need a night out

Like many other parents, I get excited when my wife or I find an affordable sitter and escape the nightly routine for an evening out.  It could be for a fancy meal, a romantic evening, a stupid movie, or simply a trip to a store without children interrupting as we both decide on a major purchase.  I think every parent needs these evenings out.  Sometimes my boys are excited to see a sitter...sometimes not, but we try to have adults nights out on a regular basis.

Last Valentine's Day weekend my wife and I tried one of the parents' night out programs that are offered in the area.  Our first experience was with the Little Gym.  I have loved the little gym programs over the years and when I noticed the flyer I had to give it a try.  The kids loved it...absolutely loved it and it was no more expensive then a sitter for the same amount of time. 

Over the summer our main sitter was home from college so we didn't think much of these programs but since she returned to school I started doing a little research on these type of event.  Below are three great local programs that I have found.

Little Gym - Parents' Survival Night 
Age restrictions: Children must be at least three (3) years old and potty trained
Hours: 5:00PM to 8:00PM
Cost: members - $30 per child (sibling discounts available)
          non-members - $35 per child (sibling discounts available)
Availability: Open to the community, but will fill up.
Frequency: A couple of times during the year

As I mentioned, I tried the Little Gym parents' survival night last February and it was great.  The kids had a pizza dinner with juice and then did a craft activity.  Finally they participated in a Little Gym style set of games and activities.  I have always been impressed with the Little Gym staff and they delivered again on the parents' survival night.  They kids were tired at the end of the night but we saw nothing but smiles from their faces.   They typically have a 7PM bedtime and they were tired but the activities were so much fun they wanted to recap the whole night before bed.  Both boys were very excited to show their craft projects and we still talking about it at preschool the next Monday with their friends. 

The next Parents' Survival Night at the Little Gym is scheduled for Saturday, November 20th from 5:00PM - 8:00PM.  As of this morning there were only three spots left.

Boroughs JCC - Parents' Night Out
Age restrictions: Children must be at least three (3) months old
Hours: 5:00PM to 9:00PM
Cost: members - $15 per child / max $40 per family
         non-members - $20 per child / max $50 per family
Availability: Open to the community
Frequency: Monthly

Last night the Boroughs JCC ran their first community parents' night out.  My kids joined many of their friends for this event.  The Boroughs JCC did a great job at providing an exciting, entertaining, and safe event for the kids.  There was pizza, juice, and water for dinner.  A magician, balloon animals, a series of craft activities and story time reading, and even a movie at the end to settle kids down before they were picked up to go home.  My boys had a blast and they can't stop talking about the magician and how much fun they had overall.  The Boroughs JCC used their facility to provide different rooms with different activities so the kids that weren't into one activity had other options.  And the price can't be beat, I am so impressed with how well run and fun for the children the event was.  For any parents out there, you deserve a night out, take advantage of this event.

The next Parents' Night Out at the Boroughs JCC is scheduled for Saturday, December 11th from 5:00PM - 9:00PM.  This one I can't wait.

Westboro Swim and Tennis - Kids' Night Out
Age restrictions: Children ages 4 to 12 (siblings can be under 3)
Hours: 5:00PM to 9:00PM
Cost: members - $10 per child
Availability: Open to members only (Note: the children themselves must be members)
Frequency: Monthly

This is the only program that I don't have first hand experience with but I wanted to include it as several of the parents that I do socialize with rave about the Kids' Night Out program at the Westboro Tennis and Swim club.  This is a night for kids to spend at the club with gym games, swimming, arts & crafts, pizza and more.  Kids Night Out runs once a month on either Friday or Saturday evenings. As I mentioned every parent and child I have talked to raves about this program, similarly to the way I now rave about the Boroughs JCC program.  The facilitators once again are top notch and the kids have a great time playing and creating projects.  If I end up joining Westboro Swim and tennis I will definitely look forward to experiencing this program first hand.

I also found out this week the Westborough Community Education Department also runs events like this occasionally as well.  The price for the last Fales one $16 per student.  Younger siblings were welcome but they also had to be potty trained.I will have to do some research on this program in the future.

Each of these programs is a member/community service.  And from what I can tell, the organizations are not making any money, rather they are just covering costs in hopes of enriching the services they provide to families in the Boroughs.  This is a great example of community supporting the community.  My kids have had great experiences and I definitely enjoy the extra night out.  I look forward to the next Boroughs JCC event.  For the money it is the best that I have experienced so far.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Crime Prevention...not panic

I consider Westborough a safe community and crime statistics back that perception, but we all know there are crimes that are committed in and around the Boroughs.  At the last Fales Parent Group meeting, the FPG president had coordinated with Westborough Police to bring in a Detective Sergeant McLeod as a guest speaker to talk to the community about crime prevention.

Most people at this point would tend to tune out, and typically I am no exception but as I drove home I realized the message is important and in my opinion it bears repeating.  Yes, Westborough (and most of the Boroughs) are relatively safe, low crime areas.  But this is exactly the right time to think about our habits and make sure we are being safe.  But it is not a time to take things to extremes and panic.  I know too many people who worry about everything and topics like this are hard because fear gets ahead of common sense.

The talk focused on an increased rate of precious metal/jewelry theft in neighboring communities, specifically Shrewsbury.  The value of gold, copper, and other precious metals, and even scrap metals are increasing to new highs each month.  Breaking and entering crimes where thieves focus on stealing jewelry are on the rise.  The stones are popped out and the metal is melted and resold.

Lots of people have insurance to cover costs, but it is impossible to restore sentimental value.  And since the crimes typically include melting the material from it's original form to resell, even if the perpetrators are caught the merchandise is not the same.

The goal of the discussion was to raise awareness to our own habits and modify them to be the best practices for safety before Westborough has an issue.  Below are some of the key points I took away from Detective Sergeant McLeod:
  • Criminals have varying degrees of desire and ability.  Victims can provide opportunity.  If all three line up, the potential for a crime to occur is high.  Each preventative action we take reduces opportunity and possibly changes desire in the thieves eyes.
  1. Lock your doors.  Too many home thefts are because people leave the door unlocked.
  2. If you have valuable (monetarily of sentimentally) items that are  not worn every day, consider a safe deposit box or a separate safe for those items. 
  3. Be aware of items around your yard that can help a potential thief gain access to your home.  For example, the ladder behind the house or your neighbors shed.  It is safer to lock second story windows then to hope a thief doesn't see the ladder in the backyard.
  4. Use your alarm system, it adds security.
  5. Be aware of what is left in plain sight, through a window or in a car.  Enticing a thief increase their desire.  Laptops, GPS, iPods, etc are all enticing, and although the hardware may be replaceable, the years or digital photos or documents are probably not.
  6. If you are really unsure of what to do, ask for help.  The Westborough Police offer guidance on safe guarding your home and even provide survey assessments of your property.  For more information on this visit:
I am by no means a trained law enforcement officer, so I know there are many more things that can be done.   I have lived in both rougher city neighborhoods where I hated parking on the street and in rural communities where I never took the keys out of the ignition of the car.  I usually base may actions around the area I live in, but I know after this talk I should do a little more.  I don't want to contribute to a rise in crime by adding opportunity.

Thank you to the Westborough Police, Detective Sergeant McLeod, and Fale's Parent Group (FPG) for providing this type of talk.  I know it is sometimes hard to get the community involved unless they are directly affected, but prevention is far superior to recovery in this case.