Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Sunset

I walked out of the supermarket yesterday and was stunned by the intensity of the sunset. Very impressive!

I've seen more than one impressive end of the day sky over the former Naugatuck Valley Mall. I suppose it has something to do with it being a relatively large flat area with hills that block out part of the western view. One evening most of the sky was pitch black, like the darkest night, with a sliver of bright sky along the western horizon where the sun was setting and the dark clouds ended. It was very surreal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Adventures

This was the first time in several years that I've spent Christmas in Waterbury. More often than not, I visit relatives in L.A. or other warm climates. Snow and cold at Christmas actually seems odd to me. I've grown accustomed to sun and warmth and the smell of Eucalyptus trees, not to mention the pleasures of airport layovers (the airport at Charlotte is my current favorite layover location, plenty of things to do, perfect for making me feel like I've truly gotten away from my stress).

This was also the first year in a long time that I've had a small child to shop for. My siblings are all adults, my cousins are all teenagers, but my niece is 3 years old and loads of fun. I spent Monday and Tuesday hunting for the right gifts for her, trying to keep my shopping done early in the day, before the masses left the office and flooded the malls.

I still had shopping to do on Christmas Eve and, again, decided to try getting it all done early, before things got too crazy. Bear in mind that I am normally on holiday, visiting relatives, shopping all done by this time. I really had no idea what to expect.

The first clue came at the end of my street, trying to turn left onto Walnut Street. There was a steady stream of traffic in both directions, far more than usual. The next clue came when I turned onto Welton Street. Traffic was backed up almost the full length of the road. For a while I thought there must be an accident at the East Main Street intersection, since I could sort of see a snarl of cars in the middle of the intersection, with other cars curving around the snarl to get through the intersection. When I finally got closer, I realized there was no accident. There simply was an abundance of drivers who felt entitled to ignore the yellow lights and pull into the middle of everyone's way, blocking the box, as they say in NYC. It looked like the traffic jam continued all the way to the I-84 on-ramp, so I decided to take East and West Main Streets through town.

The strangest thing about Christmas Eve day traffic in Waterbury was a sort of inverse proportioning. Places that normally had very little traffic were jammed, while at least one place that is normally the busiest in town was all but deserted. I stopped by Home Depot to pick up some poinsettias and was astonished by how empty the parking lot was. I have never seen the Home Depot parking lot so empty, ever. And yet I still managed to run into my brother-in-law while I was there. Go figure. Waterbury really is a small town.

I finally made it home around 5 p.m., only to discover a note from UPS telling me that they had a package for me. I suspected it was a gift for my niece from my aunt, something that I really wanted to be able to deliver the next day. I got in touch with the UPS folks in Watertown, but the customer service counter was closing and the truck with the package was still out making rounds. The woman on the phone told me that the driver would meet me on Division Street, but he really couldn't wait around, so could I be there in 10 minutes or less? I panicked and couldn't remember where Division Street was, until the UPS woman said it was off of North Main Street. Duh! It's maybe four blocks away from my house! I went racing out the front door, forgetting my cell phone, not bothering to change out of my sweat pants, just tossing on my rain boots and jacket. Then I spent about eight minutes driving up and down Division Street, wondering where the UPS truck was hiding.... it finally showed up, going the opposite direction. I flashed my lights, waited for the rest of traffic to get out of the way, then back up, turned around, parked in front of the truck, and stood calf-deep in a puddle of ice-cold water in the pouring rain and dark night to get my package (good thing I had on rain boots!). The UPS driver had me go around to the other side of the truck, where I was in danger of getting run down by oncoming traffic. Finally, he found the package, and it was indeed the gift for my niece--a Princess Treasure Chest, which proved to be the gift she was the most excited about. Success!

After my UPS rendezvous, I decided I might as well swing by the grocery store, as I had a craving for manicotti but didn't have any ricotta. I arrived at Shop-Rite just after 6 p.m., and was told by a security guard(!) at the door that the store was closed. Okay. Went across the street to Stop and Shop, cruising slowly past the entrance, where I saw would-be shoppers unable to enter. Okay, fine. Surely WalMart would still be opened. Parked my car, got out, observed a man walking away from the store tell someone else just arriving that WalMart was closed. Great. Got back in my car, headed home, then decided, as I sat forever at the stop light, that KMart appeared to be opened. Sure enough, it was. KMart was the only large store on Wolcott Road still open after 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and it was PACKED full of shoppers, far more than any other time. Their very small grocery section was emptied of almost everything, so I still had to give up on my dinner craving and go home to a second-best dinner option. Oh well. Next year I'm sure I'll remember to do all my shopping far in advance (and if you believe that...).

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The birds have finally found the bird feeder!

Maybe it was the foot of snow that finally led them to spot the feeder, maybe it was just a matter of time. Either way, there were at least three types of birds visiting today.

They are not yet confident of their safety. Notice how this one is watching the feeder and the window over his (her?) back. There were a lot of dramatic, swooping dives as they scoped things out.

Considering that they were being stared at intensely by my cats, who really wanted to be able to pounce on the birds through the window, it's no surprise that the birds were being cautious. I was impressed when this one perched at the top of the window to gaze down on the cats. I didn't have the right lens, so I had to piece the image together from two shots.

More impressive was this shot. My ex-poodle cat proved that holding very very still can bring your prey within easy reach, if only the glass weren't in the way.

Meanwhile, out in front of the house, the neighborhood kids found the perfect way to cope with all the snow on the road: go snowboarding! One neighbor went so far as to shovel out the entire width of street alongside her parking space. Luckily, we mostly got just snow, only a little bit of freezing drizzle before the last inch of snow fell.

Okay, time to go get my driveway cleared for tomorrow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

White Christmas?

As everyone in Waterbury knows, we had a major snowstorm yesterday, dumping approximately eight inches of the fluffy white stuff on us very rapidly. I had hoped to run my errands Friday morning and get home before it started, but I only got one errand done before the snow started. The roads were slippery almost instantly. If I had gone directly home then, I would have been fine, but I still needed to buy cat food. There had been only enough for the cats to have a light breakfast that morning. If I had dared go home without food, I probably would not have survived the night.

Normally, it takes me ten or twelve minutes to get home from PetSmart. Yesterday it took two hours. I should have left my car in one of the parking garages and walked home. Fortunately, I bought a packet of Cracker Jacks along with the cat food. Unfortunately, I put them in the trunk, since I didn't expect that getting home would take so long. By the time I got to the mall block of East Main Street I was starving. Traffic was going extremely slowly, with long pauses of two to five minutes, so I hopped out of the car, slid cautiously along the iced-over roadway, grabbed the Cracker Jacks, ignored the driver two cars behind who was outraged that I would do such a thing and started honking at me, and settled back in my seat with time to spare. That same impatient driver got mad at me again when we finally got to the intersection with Route 69, where we were both turning left. I stopped when the light turned yellow, because otherwise I would have had to stop in the middle of the intersection. Impatient driver started honking again. Bear in mind that traffic was going at most 5 mph. Nobody was going to get anywhere quickly. When the light turned green again, the impatient driver decided to try passing me, and didn't seem at all subdued when he started sliding back and forth. Of course, he also was not subdued by the sight of another car that had slid into a snow bank. I really was amazed by the several drivers who seemed oblivious to the road conditions. I was even more amazed that I made it home without getting rear-ended by one of them.

Today the roads were slightly better, especially since all the drivers were going slowly, cautiously and considerately. I thought the roads were be better than they were by mid-afternoon. Does Waterbury not have enough snow plows, or are the plow drivers all on strike? My street and all the other side streets in my neighborhood haven't been plowed yet, although they do all have a little bit of sand on them. Sand really isn't enough. When I came home today, I saw a big SUV attempting to push a little car up a side street. I don't know if they succeeded. More surprising was, yesterday, seeing that someone had actually tried to drive up Niagara Street, but watching an SUV try to push a car up a snowy street was almost as impressive. I also saw cars repeatedly getting stuck in the same pile of snow at the corner of East Main and the little street that runs from the highway between the mall. The third time I saw someone stuck there, the police had arrived to help out. Wouldn't it have been better if someone had plowed that spot earlier on?

Tomorrow, we'll possibly be getting more snow, followed by rain. That should be a real mess (as if it weren't bad enough already!). The rain is more worrying than the snow. Everything, including storm drains, is still buried in snow. The rain water won't have anywhere to go, just flood and then freeze. But maybe it will help clear off a layer of snow.

Metro-North Parking Lot

I haven't had to commute much in recent months, so I don't know how the train parking lot on Meadow Street has been doing, but it was free of broken glass from car windows until Thursday. I pulled carefully into the icy lot that morning, delighted to see that there were plenty of spaces relatively near the train platform (normally I don't mind an extra walk, but my feet were blistered and aching from hauling heavy packages all over midtown in the wrong shoes the day before). Just as I was turning into a parking space, I spotted a glittering pile of shattered glass, presumably from a window of the car that had been in the space before me. I felt like I was being superstitious, as if any car in that space was guaranteed to get a shattered window, but I decided to back out and park a few spaces away, just to be safe.

Sure enough, when I got back at 4:30 p.m., there was a car with a broken window in the space I decided not to park in. Either that spot is jinxed, or the thieves feel least likely to get caught in that spot, or it's just a coincidence and both cars happened to have very stealable items (like GPS) left out in the open.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mall Future?

The possible closing of the Brass Mill Center mall is once again a hot topic on many minds, but with more validity than in the past.

The mall is owned by General Growth Properties, Inc., based in Chicago, is currently trying to avoid declaring bankruptcy. General Growth (GGP) also owns one other mall in Connecticut, The Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester, as well as more than 200 malls throughout the country. According to articles on, GGP has some $900 million in mortgage debts, apparently from two malls in Las Vegas (that's right--a bad financial expense in Vegas has put something "at home" in danger--just joking here, but there is a sort of tragic comedy to it), as well as an additional $1800 million or so of other debts. There are serious concerns that GGP will "go under". Their debt ratings have most recently been downgraded to junk status (I have no idea what that really means, but it certainly doesn't sound good).

In Waterbury and, presumably, the other 200+ communities with GGP-owned malls, the immediate question is whether or not the malls will close if GGP fails. I imagine that the first step would be to put the malls up for sale. What happens after that is unknown to me. All the realtors I know agree that nothing is selling right now.

I've been hearing some buzz for the past few years about the era of the malls reaching its end. Times change, nothing lasts forever. But all of those merchants in the mall need stores in which to do business (for the customers who don't do all their shopping online). It would be interesting if the mall merchants banded together to buy the mall and then operated it as a co-op or condo association. It might even save them some money in the long run.

The current events seem somewhat ironic. The creation of malls is one of the factors associated with the death of downtown. Now that the downtown is beginning to come back to life, the mall is in danger of dying (I don't think the mall will shut down, but I'm certainly no expert). In some ways, the theoretical closing of the mall could be a boon to downtown, as the mall merchants could relocate to downtown storefronts. Unfortunately, a dead mall visible from the highway would drag down all of Waterbury, scaring away potential visitors. It's in Waterbury's best interests to keep the mall alive and thriving, even if General Growth dies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Latest Painting

Shakesperience Productions' A Midsummer Night's Dream in Library Park, 2005 (painting completed this weekend):

Visit my other blog for the story of the painting!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Morbid Plan

This week's controversial topic is the proposed conversion of the Alderson Funeral Home into a drug rehabilitation home. The location, on the corner of West Main Street and Holmes Avenue, makes it a terrible location for a rehab center. It's a beautifully maintained building in a prominent location. The best use for the building would be law offices--it's very close to the courthouse and the interior is gorgeous. Using it for drug rehab would drag down the building and the neighborhood, which is mostly law offices and apartments, as well being a gateway to downtown.

Making it an even worse plan is the fact that the building has been a funeral parlor for decades. While there are people who would have no problems living in a former funeral home, I'm sure there are plenty of people, recovering addicts included, who would be extremely uncomfortable spending one night there, let alone living there for any length of time. I can only imagine that staying there could be detrimental to someone trying to recover from a drug addiction.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


This is increasingly becoming the normal scene in my dining room, ever since I set up the bird feeder in the window. The fluffy cat in the window is taking a break from watching the squirrel to watch the snow falling.

There have been a few birds at the feeder, but mostly it's been just the squirrels. Which keeps the cats just as entertained as they would be with birds, but I miss the variety of birds that came to the feeder when I lived on Eastwood Avenue. Other than trying different types of seed, I don't know how to entice more birds. Last winter I had the feeder on the back porch, this year I've put it on the side window, thinking a new location would help. So far the results are the same. Where are all the birds? Maybe someone in the neighborhood has better seed.

The squirrels don't seem to mind the cats at all. Nor were they put off by today's snow!


There have been a few articles in the newspaper lately about Alderman Mike Telesca and one of his rental properties. First he was in trouble for not having a permit to operate a rooming house, but he has since found the paperwork from 23 years ago that gives him permission to do so. But he still hasn't been paying the annual fee for a health permit for the rooming house.

This is a man who has been involved in city politics for many years. He is an elected city official. He claims to care about doing what's best for the people of Waterbury, although, as an alderman, mostly all he seems to do is complain that the Democrats are being mean to the Independents. As a responsible city official, his response to the discovery that he is not in compliance with city regulations should have been to apologize and immediately rectify the situation by paying for the required permits. Instead he issued eviction notices to all of his tenants and claims that the Democrats are being mean to him, as if he were the only city landlord expected to have the correct permits.

This is yet another big disappointment from Waterbury's Independent Party. Instead of focusing on doing good works for the city, they are, collectively and individually, bogged down in paranoia. At best, they are paranoid that new developments, like the power plant in the South End, are bad for the city and speak out against them. Most of the time, however, they seem to be obsessed with the notion that the Democrats are out to get them and waste huge amounts of time and energy complaining about it, instead of saying "so what?" and moving forward with their elected responsibilities.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Commercial Interruption

Do you hate going shopping at the mall during the holiday season? If so, don't go! Here are some really good alternatives:

Stay home, use the internet, and visit my CafePress store to buy framed archival prints of my Waterbury paintings (and other merchandise as well). Or buy one of my original paintings: Meadow Street is available directly through me, Shakespeare in Library Park will be available soon, and Rainy Day, Pine Street is available at the John Bale Book Company on Grand Street (where the painting can currently be viewed in their holiday window display).

While you're at John Bale, do some more gift shopping! They have a ton of books and prints that would make great presents. And you can grab a coffee or tea from their Café while you shop.

Downtown Waterbury has many good stores for gift buying. Think of the chaos of any mall parking lot this time of year, then imagine parking downtown. The Buckingham parking garage is well-lit, with security monitors and a low hourly rate for a downtown garage (one dollar per hour, even less if you have your parking validated by the merchants). There's always plenty of parking, and no stressed-out shoppers willing to run you down for a parking space.

On Bank Street, the Connecticut Store has a wonderful selection of gift items, all made in Connecticut. Clothing, accessories, maple syrup, jams, toys and games, fine artwork.

Also on Bank Street, there are clothing stores ranging from those that appeal to teenagers, to Tony's Men's Shop, where you can buy a really nice suit or tie.

Ideal Jewelers is just as the name implies: the perfect place to purchase jewelry and watches. If you're looking for a Timex watch, don't forget to stop by the Timexpo Museum in the Barnes & Noble/Office Max plaza next to the mall.

Shakesperience Productions offers private acting lessons as well as acting workshops (a perfect gift for the aspiring thespian, or for anyone looking for something fun to do in the winter!), and they have upcoming public performances, with tickets available now. Similarly, the Palace Theater has a lot of great upcoming shows--tickets are a good stocking-stuffer, and a season pass is even better!

Goldsmith's sells artwork, but they also have a framing studio and can put a quality frame on your family photos, documents and artwork for less than you would pay at the mall, even though the quality is much more professional than what you would get at the mall.

If you're shopping on a budget, try Maslar's on Bank Street. Yes, it's a pawn shop, but it's not too scary and you'll find some good bargains.

Another good gift option are gift certificates. Waterbury, especially downtown, is full of great locally-owned restaurants (see the links on the right) which offer gift certificates.

You might even find some good items at the UConn-Waterbury co-op store.

Go downtown, and go shopping!