Monday, April 23, 2012

Asian Taste

    After a long day of work and school, sometimes I just don't feel like cooking or eating leftovers. Those are the nights I want to order delivery that’s fast and filling and I am usually hungry for delicious, addictive Chinese food. My favorite place to order from is Asian Taste in Medford. It’s located at 207 Middlesex Avenue, Medford, MA 02155: a quick walk or bus ride from Wellington Station.
(via Bing Images)

    My father and I habitually order their combination plates: an entrée, two appetizers and pork fried or white rice. The portion size is enough for two meals with the rice taking up half the Styrofoam container. I’ll get white rice, orange flavored chicken with steamed broccoli, spare ribs, and scallion pancakes. The orange chicken is filling by itself; large pieces of white meat chicken coated in a spicy orange sauce. Dad enjoys a similar combination, but prefers the spicy orange beef and the occasional side of crab rangoon. Together both plates come to $18.00 or $9.00 per plate plus tax; two meals for under $25.00.

    We typically order delivery, but if we're out we will stop by the restaurant. Asian Taste is small; the counter is directly in front of you when you walk in with a few chairs to wait by the window on the right. To the left of the counter is the dining room with six tables; on most visits, I see groups sitting down with one or two couples. You might see the lone patron enjoying the lunch specials. The staff is welcoming, efficient and professional; they are ready to take your order as soon as you enter and patient if you need time to think. Asian Taste’s atmosphere is relaxed; a small Buddha rests by the side of the counter, lucky golden cats are nearby and murals with Chinese characters hang on the walls. You can watch as the cooks prep dishes behind the counter; the sounds of woks frying little delicacies and the flash of fire make for an entertaining experience. The food always arrives hot and fresh. Patrons can chose from Chinese, Vegetarian and Seafood options. I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes for a to-go order. Delivery in the Medford area is specified as 30-45 minutes, but it arrives within a half hour in most cases. 

    They've recently revamped their website: the full menu is presented with pricing by small and regular portions, online ordering is now an option, there’s an interactive Google Map and the restaurant’s hours and ordering information is on the About page. The site is easily navigable and direct with its simple layout. Stop in, call or order online Asian Taste if you are in the mood for some cheap, but delightful Chinese takeout.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Fat Cat Restaurant in Quincy

At the Fat Cat in Quincy, you can get great food, generous portions, and friendly service all at a price that won’t break the bank. As owner Neil Kiley will tell you, the “three main components to restaurant dining are quality, service, and value.” The restaurant certainly meets those standards it so highly values, and it will be evident within minutes of your first – and what will not be your last – visit. From their iconic, bottomless bowls of macaroni and cheese to their signature martinis, the Fat Cat has something for everyone.

Once seated, you will be brought a basket of assorted, homemade bread which usually includes dinner rolls and cornbread. Accompanying the complimentary starter is honey butter for spreading and a black bean hummus for dipping. The butter is sweet and the hummus is savory, but both will please your taste buds.

Sometimes, the appetizer section of a menu can seem mundane and as though it has been forgotten, written off by the chef as a necessary evil. This is not the case at the Fat Cat, as their appetizer menu shows anything but neglect. While it hasn’t been neglected, it still offers staples such as chicken wings, French fries, and fried onions…but each has its own twist. While you can opt for classic Buffalo wings, you have the option of choosing from an array of sauces, rubs, and dips. The same goes for the French fries; you can get the classic, but you’ll want to try a batch with one of their many seasonings. As for the fried onions, the Fat Cat is of the opinion that rings are for fast food restaurants. Instead, theirs are served in thin, lightly battered straws that resemble a stack of hay (hence the name, Haystacks). The selection of appetizers is impressive, and the prices make them all the more irresistible, ranging from a mere $7 to $10.

Do not be naïve, ordering a salad or a sandwich at the Fat Cat does not qualify as ordering a small bite. Both serve as substantial entrees and sufficient meals for even the hungriest diner. The salads come in a shallow bowl that is as big as a large-sized pizza and filled with all kinds of “good stuff” rather than with iceberg lettuce “filler.” As for the sandwiches, each half is larger than what ordinary restaurants call a whole sandwich. A pulled-pork sandwich, topped with wispy fried onions and on a homemade sub roll, could feed a family of four. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far from the truth. The sandwich overflows with barbecued pork, and while you’ll try to use your hands, you’ll need a fork. The sandwich is the true “Big N’ Tasty,” and better yet, it is just $7!

If you have heard anything about the Fat Cat, it was probably in regards to their macaroni and cheese, as it’s the best macaroni and cheese you will ever have out. The Gourmet Mac N Cheese, as it’s called, has its own section of the menu rather than being lumped in with the other entrees. Four cheeses (Manchego, Parmesan, Bleu, and Cheddar) cover spirally noodles and marinated tomatoes are placed on top. Like with the appetizers, you can order the standard, but you’ll want to take advantage of the many different options you’re presented with. The Fat Cat gives you the option of having lobster, steak, shrimp, hot dog, crab, or chicken mac. The classic cheese starts at $10, and prices work their way up. The lobster mac is the most expensive at $18, but it’s a small price to pay for a dish that contains handfuls of lobster meat and a whole box of pasta (seriously, each serving contains a box of pasta).

Huge portions aren’t for everyone, but luckily the Fat Cat lets you share entrees. Unlike some restaurants that completely prohibit sharing, here, the cost is an additional $4 to the price of the entrée. However, if you don’t like to share, be prepared to take home your leftovers; there will be leftovers, and they’re too good to leave behind!

The drink menu at the Fat Cat is as good as the dinner menu and is definitely worth taking a look at. Wine and beer drinkers will be pleased with both selection and price: a variety of wine is available for $7 a glass while the many beers range in price from $3.50 for domestic bottles to $4 for import bottles to $5 for what’s on draft. The wine and beer lists are impressive, but all patrons of age should try a Fat Cat Cocktail. Perhaps the best two are the Purple Purr (a sweet concoction of grape vodka, grape pucker, limoncello, sour mix, and Sprite) and the Jolly Cat (a Jolly Rancher in cocktail-form!). Women are served these Fat Cat Cocktails in martini glasses and for the prideful gentlemen they are served on the rocks. These delicious drinks are just $8 a glass – a bargain compared to the typical $14 other Boston-area restaurants charge for their martinis.

Next time you’re looking to dine somewhere with great food at an unbeatable price, look no further than the Fat Cat. Located at 24 Chestnut Street, Quincy, MA, the Fat Cat is the place to go for the ultimate dining experience.

Tasca Restaurant

Tasca on Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton is a rare gem. First of all, Brighton is not exactly known for its cuisine, let alone a great tapas place. Tasca sits near the ugly grey corner of Washington St., surrounded by run down apartment buildings. The street constantly hears the squeaking of the B line, arguably Boston’s worst train.

Inside, however, is a charming space consistently packed to the brim with the young professionals that populate this neighborhood for a year or two after BU or BC graduation. The entry has a few booths and a small bar (small as in four stools), and the small main dining room has so many tables that the mind boggles. Prepare to get cozy with your neighbor. The walls have stock paintings of Spain’s vistas and city streets, and everything is very low key and no frills.

Except for the food. Each table starts out with bread, olives, and a garlicky tapenade. While my date enjoys the olives, I go to town on the tapenade. We order a $5 pitcher of blood orange sangria that is worth twice that much, and peruse the stimulus menu.

Here’s where Tasca is really amazing. At the end of the meal, they ask you to fill out a short comment card. With this, they strive to improve their service as well as offer you deals with a weekly e-mail newsletter. In it there are deals for sangria, wine, and the legendary stimulus menu (3 courses, $18). There are also announcements for Neighborhood Nights, flamenco nights, and the like.

I should admit that I’ve only had tapas here once or twice. We always order from the stimulus. It’s economical and consistently delicious. We come every few months, for dates or birthdays, visiting parents or holidays. It is plain and simply our designated spot. And why shouldn’t it be? If we each order from the stimulus and share a pitcher of sangria, each of us is only paying $20.50 plus tip! Not too bad for amazing food and drink in this very expensive city.

Now back to the important stuff: the food. I started with the butternut squash soup with roasted apples and toasted walnuts, while my man had organic field greens with apple, bleu cheese, and toasted walnuts in a Rioja vinaigrette. Only just now, as I wrote that, did I see how similar our appetizers sounded despite tasting worlds away differently. I order the soup every time it’s on the menu, because it’s the creamiest, most magnificent thing I can think of to start my meal off. I moved on to a baked crusted filet of New England haddock over scallion mashed potatoes in a shallot white wine sauce, served with sauteed spinach. The potatoes were to die for, and my attempt to eat healthier by ordering fish was well rewarded. Perhaps the cream sauce didn’t assist in the health department, but its flavor was worth it.

The boyfriend had chicken braised with Moroccan spices, mango, and raisins, served along with cumin scented rice. I tried a few bites, deemed it delicious, but quickly returned to my own meal. He followed that up with the cranberry apple pie, and I got my favorite dessert of tiramisu. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Tasca is great for a casual dinner after work, a large party of revelers, and even a nice date night. The waitstaff is always a bit cold, but that’s never bothered me because they’re also great at their jobs; I’ve never had a single issue, and I’ve been there more times than I can count. The same goes for the kitchen; never have I, or anyone I’ve eaten there with, complained about a meal.

Just go, quickly, and eat well on the cheap!
1612 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton MA

Hana Sushi

If you do a internet search for “sushi restaurant” in the Boston area, you will find that there are a lot of choices. My favorite sushi restaurant is Hana Sushi, located at 2372 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA. I have tried many different sushi restaurants around Boston and this is always the place I keep coming back to. There is street parking along Massachusetts Avenue and it is also a close walk from the Porter Square red line stop.

One way that this restaurant separates itself from other sushi restaurants in the area, is the service. Every time I have gone, the service has been very friendly and always accommodating. I have never gone there when it was extremely crowded, so I have never waited for a table. This is a very important because other sushi restaurants I’ve gone to are usually crowded with long wait times. It is a very intimate restaurant, which also has seating at the sushi bar, where you can watch the sushi chef create all the different kinds of sushi available there.

Hana Sushi has a wide variety of sushi that can be ordered but they also serve other dishes such as noodles. I usually choose maki rolls, which range in price depending on the type of fish used. Last time I visited, I ordered the Spicy Maguro roll ($6.50), California roll ($5.50), Caterpillar roll ($8.75) and a Tempura roll ($7.50). The prices are decent for the fresh and excellent quality sushi that they serve. I have never been disappointed with the food. If you are looking for a great sushi restaurant, I highly recommend Hana Sushi.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Azama Grill

Azama Grill
54 Harvard Ave
Allston, MA 02134
(617) 779-0003

Azama Grill, nestled in the heart of Allston Center, has become a staple for college students and other local residents. They serve a variety of Mediterranean delicacies, from falafel wraps to lamb chops, all at a very wallet friendly price. Specifically the wraps are an amazing deal, ranging from $4.50 (for vegetarian options) up to $6.50. All the sandwiches are served fresh with an ample amount of toppings including pickles, their own salad and tahini sauce. Their other meal options include different types of kabobs served with sides, as well as homemade spinach or meat pies for $3.00. Azama Grill provides a great break from the regular American fare and the best part is they keep their doors open Monday-Sunday until 2 am.

With that being said, Azama is not a sit-down style restaurant where one can sit and be waited on. The location is small but they do provide tables and chairs for people to stay and enjoy their meals. All of the ordering is done at a counter, and although it is not the most luxurious of settings, while standing there you are able to see all the magic that is happening in their open kitchen. If you are unable to get to their Harvard Ave. location they also provide delivery service to the surrounding areas. 

I would not recommend bringing someone here on a date or a special occasion, but definitely suggest stopping in and grabbing a bite to go. I personally go to Azama whenever I get the chance and have never heard of anyone being disappointed with their meals. If it is your first time visiting or eating Middle Eastern style food I would urge you to try the falafel roll up. Unlike other various falafel places in the Boston Area, they serve their wraps with three large falafel balls and plenty of fixings. Most of the time, I can only get through half and then save the other half for later. It’s a great, unknown, little gem in Boston and if two people can eat somewhere for under $10.00 then it’s definitely worth checking out!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ObamaCare vs. RomneyCare- The Demonization of Healthcare Reform

The politicization of healthcare reform has the potential to do great harm to this country. Casually using derogatory language to link healthcare reform to a certain political party only trivializes and diminishes the importance of healthcare, one of the most important issues this country faces. By using a combination of vitriol and misinformation, the Republican Party has succeeded to demonize healthcare reform so much that it may very well become the most decisive factor in the upcoming Presidential election.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed into law in March 2010 by President Barack Obama, owes much of its existence to the Massachusetts Health Care Insurance Reform law enacted by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in April 2006. Some aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (ACA) went into effect the minute the act was signed into law. Thanks to President Obama (with a little help and support from his would be opponent this November), 30 million Americans now have access to healthcare services that they did not previously have. Private insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. Like the Massachusetts healthcare law, the ACA allows children to remain on their parents insurance until age 26, rather than being taken off at age 19, a few years older if the child is a full time student. Another edict both laws have in common, and where almost all of the objection to this law stems from, is the mandate for every individual to purchase some basic form of healthcare insurance.

The Massachusetts healthcare law has been wildly successful. In December 2010 a study conducted by the Urban Institute stated that 98% of state residents have health insurance coverage. The Massachusetts mandate insists that those who are able to afford health insurance, whether one is unemployed, underemployed or self-employed, purchase it from a private insurance company. Low-income residents qualify for state subsidized Commonwealth Care, a program offering free health services to those most in financial need. The ACA also mandates that those individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance do so or pay a penalty, but there are some exceptions to this rule. One may be exempt if one can prove financial hardship. Another way one may opt out of the individual mandate if they feel healthcare insurance undermines their religious beliefs. Unlike the ACA, the Massachusetts healthcare law does not exempt those because of their ideology.

The reasons why Republicans are rooting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act vary. Some protest that mandating that everyone purchase health insurance is unconstitutional and feel that this is a state issue rather than a national issue. Others question how the government plans to pay for it and worry that private health insurance costs will soar as a result of the individual mandate coming into effect in 2014. Some oppose the ACA purely because it was championed by Barack Obama and are bitter about his succeeding with this issue when others before him, such as President Bill Clinton and his effort to push through healthcare reform in 1993, failed. Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich initially supported the ACA early in 2011 before announcing his candidacy later in the year, “I am for people, individuals exactly like automobile insurance individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance,” but has turned against it in order to appeal to the Republican base. Mitt Romney, seeing that the ACA is based on the healthcare law he enacted in 2006, was once an enthusiastic supporter until he set his sights on the Oval Office as well.

The Republican Party has been overwhelmingly successful in their quest to demonize healthcare reform. While the ACA was being debated in 2009, right-wing darling, Sarah Palin said that the ACA would institute “death panels,” groups of bureaucrats who would determine whether certain Americans were worthy enough to receive adequate medical care. Even though this accusation was thoroughly debunked, it, along with other bits of misinformation such as the ACA will cut benefits to senior citizens, have helped form a negative perception about the ACA. In a recent conducted by Pew Research 2/3 of Americans oppose the individual insurance mandate with only 47% of those polled supporting the overall law.

While calling a rose by any other name does not change the fragrance of the object in question, calling a concept by any other name does change its perception and in a subtle way, its nature. As George Carlin once said, “changing the name of the condition does not change the condition.” By calling the PPACA “ObamaCare” or “RomneyCare,” politicians have effectively blurred the significance of healthcare reform, displaying a willingness to sacrifice an issue so important to the nation’s welfare by letting it fall within party lines. To support the ACA is to effectively align oneself with the Democratic Party while denying the importance and need for healthcare reform the ACA provides is to proclaim oneself to support a Republican agenda. Meanwhile, those of us who recognize the need for massive healthcare reform on a national level but are wary about instituting a mandate for purchasing private health insurance in order to comply with the new law, are torn not only by our political sympathies but by the belief that everybody deserves the same level of medical care.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Student Commuters Not Happy With MBTA Fare Decision

On July 1st, the MBTA plans to raise subways fares by 30 cents, bus fares by 25 cents, and commuter rail fares by $1.25. They also plan to reduce and even cut some service to help the massive debt they face. This decision was recently announced after months of speculation. It is the first time in five years that the MBTA has raised its fare prices.

Although it seems like a small amount at first, this increase is going to hurt a lot of commuters. The rough economy already has many people sacrificing so much because of their poor financial situations. One group of commuters that will be very impacted by this price increase is college students. Most college students who commute are already on a tight budget and any increase in fares will add to the financial burden, that college students already have to deal with. In today’s economy a lot of people have to sacrifice to get by, college students are no exception. With the way college tuition has risen in recent years, more and more college students are deciding to stay home with their parents instead of moving out and living on campus or in a near by apartment. A lot of student commuters with cars also made the decision that gas prices are too high to drive everyday and instead use the MBTA. They have no choice but to rely on the MBTA and their services to get to school everyday. 

Eric Alvez, a senior at Northeastern University, commutes from Wilmington, Massachusetts five days a week to Boston. He relies on the MBTA to get to class and without it he wouldn’t be able to attend Northeastern. Eric said, “This increase is a huge deal to me. I not only take the commuter rail but also the green line, which puts another strain on my pocket. Any increase in fare is going to impact a commuter like me. It adds up over time when you start to realize how much money you spend on the MBTA." Eric continued, "I’m on a strict budget trying to get by as it is. I might start walking from North Station all the way to Northeastern to save money instead of taking the Green Line”

Eric is not alone; I asked another student commuter how they felt about the increase in MBTA fares. Leslie Costa is a Boston University student, who commutes from Charlestown a few times a week to get to class. Leslie said, “I think it is ridiculous that the MBTA is going to raise prices at a time like this when so many people are struggling to get by. I already felt like I was spending too much to get to school but this is crazy.” Leslie went on to say, “The problem is I have no choice but to just pay it since I have no other way to get to school.”

As a college student who commutes, I can really understand the frustration that so many people are feeling. I remember when the fare prices were increased five years ago thinking, “Are they going to raise them again after this?” Unfortunately, it seems like they are going to, even though it ended up being five years later. The MBTA does have a lot of debt it needs to get rid of but it is unfortunate its customers are the ones that are going to suffer because of it.

Out and About: The Montague Bookmill

The Montague Bookmill looms large in my memory, just as it looms large over the Sawmill River. I have been frequenting this space since I was a young kid, coming here for browsing with my dad during the day, and now and then for a concert. Once, Dar Williams dedicated my very favorite song as a child (“The Babysitter’s Here”) to myself and my sister as we snoozed in our parents’ laps. Suffice it to say, this place is special.

On a recent drive up to Vermont, I took my boyfriend to experience the Bookmill. While he’s not much of a reader, he is a builder, and he loved the architecture of the place. The Bookmill was once a working mill, as evidenced by the metal poles shooting to the ceiling here and there. It was originally built in 1842, and was converted into a bookstore 25 years ago, in 1987.

The store specializes in the academic, but you can find a good fiction book if that’s what you’re looking for. My favorite room is at the very top, a little nook of art books. There are two comfy chairs, a steady stream of light, and generally, absolute silence. On this visit, I splurged on a book of Diane Arbus prints I’d long been coveting.

When I was in high school, I’d sometimes drive out to the Bookmill to do some studying in the sunlight from the giant windows facing the river. Now, there is the Lady Killigrew Cafe attached, offering small bites, coffee, wine and beer. My man and I shared a Warm Brown Rice Salad and Peanut-Ginger Udon Noodles, the two most filling looking appetizers. Both were delicious, and we washed them down with well-brewed black coffees (perhaps from local roaster Dean’s Beans?).

On our way out, coffees and new (used) book in hand, we stopped in at Turn It Up!, a local chain of used record stores that now has a location at the Bookmill site. We browsed but didn’t buy, and continued our drive north. I felt I had properly initiated my love to one of the many wonders of the Pioneer Valley; after all, if you don’t get the Bookmill, then you don’t get the Valley.

The Bookmill also houses a restaurant these days, called The Night Kitchen, which my mom says is pretty good (but you can never trust that woman!) but we had neither time nor appetite to check it out. There are two art studios/galleries there, as well, which looked nice but were closed. I once bought a beautiful ceramic plate from one during a summer sale many moons ago, and it still serves as the spoon rest on my stove to this day.

All in all, the Montague Bookmill is a Valley landmark. While a bit out of the way (its motto being “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), it’s well worth the trip. It offers books and eats in one of the prettiest spots Western Massachusetts has to offer. If you’re not persuaded by the lovely wooden floors, long stretches of book stacks, and gorgeous views of the river, you’re not human.

The Planned Parenthood "bomb" and a discussion of reproductive rights

On the night of Sunday, April 1st, a small fire started in an exam room at the Appleton, WI branch of Planned Parenthood. The following Tuesday, a man named Francis Grady was arrested, and he seemed quite proud of his accomplishment; he attempted to fire his state-appointed attorney and plead guilty.

Grady had filled a bottle with gasoline, dropped it through a window he’d broken, and lit it on fire. He also apparently set his sleeve ablaze in the process. This was not a random act of arson, however: he attempted to burn down Planned Parenthood because, as he yelled at his court appearance, “they’re killing babies there.”

The Appleton branch is one of three Planned Parenthood clinics in Wisconsin that provides abortion services. The state’s abortion laws aren’t out of the ordinary: written consent is required and partial birth abortion has been outlawed. Aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be much on the books about abortion in Wisconsin, and it is not one of the many states in the news these days with new abortion restrictions being debated.

This makes it a surprising place for an attack, though I suppose an attack like this can never be anticipated. While Francis Grady appeared odd at his court appearance, he did not appear to be deranged or mentally incompetent. He is simply a man wondering if anyone cares about “the 1,000 babies that died screaming,” a phrase he hurled at the judge during his court proceedings.

I spoke with Rachel DiBella, a local advocate for sexual health and justice. She sees this attack as just the tip of the iceberg: “if this past year didn’t starkly illustrate for us what a serious threat certain people and institutions pose to women's health and basic rights, it would be almost comical to watch the countless individuals who have come forward (mostly white men, of course) and spread their toxic rhetoric about 'women's issues' from one end of the spectrum to the other.” She’s right; there were more anti-choice pieces of legislation introduced in 2011 than in any other year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

What’s been largely missing, however, are personal attacks. Since 2009, when Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot dead at his church, there haven’t been a lot of attacks on doctors or abortion providing clinics. The fight has largely moved from the streets to state legislative buildings. It has also largely changed from a discussion of abortion as an overarching issue, and focused instead on aspects within that issue: this year has seen legislation involving transvaginal ultrasounds and even a renewed debate about contraception.

DiBella sees how all this ties together, as well as the underlying issue: “it started with the subject of rape, and how we define it, while abortions came to the forefront. And suddenly, if we paused to look around, we'd see that, with contraception brought into the discourse, these concerns are not about violence or life or choice at all. This is about a deep-seated mistrust and resentment of women.”

This idea of trusting women does seem to underline everything. When we talk about abortion, before we get into the politics of religious or moral beliefs, we talk about a woman’s right to both privacy and the choice to decide when she is ready to have a child. This issue of privacy is something everyone seems able to get behind, yet not when it comes to women’s reproductive and sexual health. It was with this in mind that Ohio Representative Nina Turner introduced a bill requiring men to have counsel with a sex therapist, a cardiac test, and a signed affidavit from their sexual partner in order to get a prescription for Viagra. In an interview with MSNBC, she said “we gotta make sure we guide men to make the right decisions,” borrowing language long used when discussing issues that fall under the umbrella of abortion. While Turner’s bill was generally laughed at, she pointed out the absurdity of the language used. After all, women are adults, capable of thought and decisions. A lot of the language used around abortion implies that they aren’t.

All of this is bigger than the incident in Appleton, of course. The difference is that Francis Grady took it upon himself to do this, apparently ignoring the work already being done on his behalf in state legislation across the country. Whether or not we will see more acts of vigilantism pertaining to abortion remains to be seen, but as long as this distrust of women continues, it wouldn’t be surprising.

Out and About: Mystic River Reservation and Tobert Macdonald Park

As a broke college student, I’m always looking to take advantage of staying local and participating in free or cheap activities; public parks meet these requirements. When I need to burn off some energy or just get in touch with nature, I head to the Mystic River Reservation in Medford, Massachusetts. The Mystic River Reservation is connected through Medford, Somerville, and Everett. It’s a twenty minute power walk from my house, but if you are not lucky enough to live so close, it is accessible by the Orange Line, commuter rail and bus or by car.

With the weather reaching the high 70s and 80s this past week, it has been the perfect time to return to the reservation. Trails sprawl along the Mystic shaded by trees in bloom, boaters fly across the water, the lawns are populated by families enjoying picnics and games, bicyclists and joggers move swiftly along the paths; all are here to soak up the sun while it lasts. If you're like me, taking a stroll through the park is a great way to relax and get in a little exercise. Tobert Macdonald Park is a section of the Medford area reservation, within the park is a nature preserve; a marshland with reaching reeds where the scurrying of small animals can be heard. The park is populated by grackles, robins, and sparrows; their twitter echoing across the grounds. Rabbits are abundant; you are likely to see a few adolescents in the brush during your visit. Macdonald Park is a slice of nature in the middle of the city; the landscaping is well kept and according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) “award-winning”.

The reservation is open year round from dawn until dusk, best of all, it’s free! Nearby, across the street from the Macdonald Park entrance is a shopping center with a Stop & Shop and CVS Pharmacy; on those hot days, you can go purchase food and refreshments to enjoy. There are no picnic tables, but benches are dispersed along the trails, and there are no qualms against bringing an old blanket along for a picnic on the grass. Great for groups or the individual, DCR lists the following permissible activities on the Mystic River Reservation on their webpage: swimming, rowing, sailing, soccer, picnic, biking, running, hiking, tennis, and boating. Specific to Medford’s reservation is running, hiking, and boating; check DCR’s website before you head to any of reservation sites to see what they allow.

While Medford’s Mystic River Reservation may offer both excitement and relaxation, there are some less than favorable aspects. A problem with many public parks is disturbing characters; if you visit the park alone go during daylight hours and be aware of your surroundings. That’s common sense! The reason I say this is that there has been a reported problem of men waiting amongst the reeds where they solicit sex. Daylight hours offer protection; the park is busy as well as the roads in the surrounding area. Fortunately, the state police barracks are located next to the Macdonald Park entrance. Personally, I’ve never been bothered; I’ve been harassed more on the subway. The police do patrol the park, their cruisers driven on the paved trails. The only irritation I ever have while walking along the river are the clouds of gnats and mosquitoes that arise every few feet in warm weather; this is taken care of by generous amounts of bug spray.

Overall, this is a wonderful place to spend time. The benefits of exercise and being in the presence of nature are reason enough; I go for mental and physical health. Although located within an urban environment, the reservation feels outside of it. The busyness of the suburbs melts away into the background, it leaves behind tranquility. A visit to the park is affordable for this broke college student and enjoyable at the same time.

Anna Maria College Withraws Kennedy Invitation

by Shannon O'Neill

Vicki Kennedy, widow of the iconic late Senator Ted Kennedy, found herself embroiled in controversy recently after a speaking engagement at Anna Maria College was abruptly canceled. Kennedy was slated to give the commencement address on May 19, 2012, but the invitation was withdrawn per request of Worcester Diocese Bishop McManus. Anna Maria is a small Catholic college, and while representatives from the college expressed that they still wished for Vicki to speak, they rely heavily on donations that come from the Worcester Diocese. Because of this, they felt obligated to appease the Bishop’s request, and reluctantly withdrew Vicki’s invitation.

Bishop McManus felt that although Kennedy is Catholic, her personal views do not keep with the teachings of the Catholic Church strictly enough. While those “views” have been left unsaid, he was presumably referring to her views on abortion, birth control, gay rights, and other social issues. While McManus felt this deemed Kennedy an unfit role model to the Catholic graduates of Anna Maria, other Catholic colleges in Massachusetts have felt differently – Kennedy was given an honorary degree from Emmanuel College in Boston in 2010 and is scheduled to speak at Boston College’s Graduate School commencement this spring. Both Emmanuel and Boston College have stood by their view that Vicki is an admirable role model.

While the controversy has focused primarily on Kennedy and the Catholic Church, little attention has been focused on how students at Anna Maria feel about the turn of events. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, has found the coverage to be a bit of a distraction and said, “There have been news crews all over campus. They’re filming here, but they’re not speaking to students. I don’t know if they’re speaking with administrators or just want their news anchors to be in front of our school just because it looks good, but on the whole students have been ignored.” When asked what she thought about the situation she said, “I think it’s silly. I don’t know much about Vicki Kennedy, but I know she is a Catholic, like me and like most of us here. I don’t agree with all her beliefs, but it’s not like she was going to get to the podium and start pushing her personal beliefs. Mostly, I think it’s embarrassing for the college and the Bishop.”

Some students believe that Vicki should be allowed, but also think it’s best to follow Church leaders. The student government president at Anna Maria, Alicia Savo, said that she was looking forward to hearing Kennedy speak “but [doesn’t] think the Bishop would have said he didn’t think it was a good idea unless it wasn’t a good idea” and that she “understand[s] where he’s coming from.”

Students at Anna Maria have been affected the most by this incident, but students throughout the state find it puzzling. John O’Neill, a political science student at UMass Boston expressed his opinion saying, “On one level, I understand the Church and the college have every right to withdraw the invitation, but I don’t understand why they would want such bad publicity. [Vicki] is a member of one of the most famous Catholic families in politics, and I think having her speak would have sent a much better message than taking back an invitation.” Another UMass Boston student, Elizabeth H., hadn’t heard anything about this incident but was surprised when she heard about it. “I can’t imagine something like that ever happening here at UMass,” she said, “I’m Catholic, but I never thought Catholic colleges or schools were so strict.”

For her part, Kennedy has taken this all in stride. In a public statement she said, “I have great respect and admiration for Anna Maria College and the Class of 2012 and would not want my presence to hurt the school or detract from the graduates’ special day in any way. Nevertheless, I am disheartened by this entire turn of events.”

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fool's Edition

by Shannon O'Neill

MADISON, Wisconsin – In a bizarre speech to the conservative religious group MAHMY (Mothers Against Hungry Mouths Yearning), Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum sought to bridge the gap between government support and private church initiatives. The former senator from Pennsylvania proposed using the “pink slime” generated by the meat packing industry as the base ingredient for a new and highly nutritious Communion wafer in Catholic churches throughout the Third World. Santorum claimed that the by-product produced when USDA approved beef trimmings are exposed to ammonia gas are quite edible, and would provide much needed protein to hungry people throughout the world. Santorum went on to deride the “liberal elitist press” for giving what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef” the negative moniker of “pink slime,” making it virtually unusable in the United States. “Offering this to countries in need will not only promote the best of America” Santorum said, “it will promote the best of the Roman Catholic Church, of which I am a proud member.” When questioned by reporters on whether one Communion wafer a week would be enough to stem hunger, Santorum replied, “we hope that those in need will attend services every day.” Sources say the candidate seemed to actually believe in every word he said, while members of the Romney camp suspect that Santorum himself may have been exposed to ammonia fumes. The Wisconsin Republican Primary will be held on Tuesday, April 3rd.

April Fool's Edition

JetBlue Airways has just introduced a new safety feature to its airplanes, The Jet Blue Ninja. Following past incidents, that involved a flight attendant going crazy and now recently a JetBlue Airways pilot going nuts mid flight, JetBlue has decided to go ahead and beat the rest of the airlines to the punch (literally) and give passengers a new unique safety feature. 

This new innovative safety feature is activated when sensors on the plane are triggered and detect a crewmember losing their their mind. When this happens, the ninja springs into action from a hidden compartment in the plane and utilizes ancient martial arts skills to subdue the crew member, usually with a non-lethal kick to the face.

After its first test flight on board a plane, passenger Brad Jones of Tampa Bay, Florida said, “I feel safe knowing that a crazy crew member will be taken care of, while I’m trying to relax in my uncomfortable seat with no leg room, while watching the newest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Have you ever tried to sleep on one of those things? It is impossible but the ninja thing is bad ass though.” 

JetBlue hopes to also use this new safety feature when dealing with passengers who try to start small talk with their neighbors, when obviously those people are trying to sleep.

April Fool's Edition!

by Hannah Risser-Sperry

After a few too many long days on the campaign trail, Rick Santorum has finally succumbed to the advances of his sultry Etch-A-Sketch. Though she started as a simple swipe at Mitt Romney, she soon became much more.

Santorum has reportedly taken to calling her Shirley, and aides have become concerned. One key strategist, who preferred to remain nameless, said things escalated quickly: “We gave him the Etch-A-Sketch two minutes before a rally, and he seemed fine throughout that first event. He hasn’t put it down since, and has snapped at anyone who suggests he throw it out. He sleeps with it. We hear him giggling in his hotel room, even when his wife isn’t campaigning with us.”

Troubling, indeed. This reporter asked Santorum about “Shirley” following an event in California last night, and was met with an icy stare. He was holding the Etch-A-Sketch close to his sweater vest, and stroking it with his right hand. When pressed, he responded with an exasperated “I just like playing with the knobs, okay?!” before storming off to his bus.

From the Gingrich campaign, there have been no such reported issues. Newt gave the Etch-A-Slut away to a young child at the first event, thus freeing himself from her amorous grasp. The campaign is having a good laugh at Santorum, according to the small staff Gingrich hasn’t yet fired.