Archive for March, 2009

How not to change a headlight

Friday, March 27th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

This was apparently the week for “p’diddles,” as we called them when we were kids. In the last five days, my co-worker Jessica and I have both had headlights out.

Thankfully, I noticed mine before leaving the driveway. Jessica, on the other hand, had it pointed out by a State Trooper.

Our approach to rectifying the situation also differed. Jessica, in my opinion, took the easy way out. She had her light fixed by a licensed professional. I chose the cheaper and infinitely more entertaining way, and asked my father to do it for me. In retrospect, this might not have been a wise decision.

I would gladly choose a book store over an auto parts store any day. It must be all that latent testosterone in the air because, like hardware stores, they typically give me hives.

Since I don’t know the difference between well, anything they stock, I always end up feeling like a brainless twit. Monday afternoon, when I walked into Advanced Auto Parts, was no exception. I went in fully prepared to feel like an idiot.

To my surprise and relief, the process of getting a replacement bulb for my headlight was, in fact, entirely painless. Thanks to the assistance from a knowledgeable staff member, I had my bulb and was on my way within minutes. With only about $10 less in my pocket than when I went in.

I should have known that such good fortune was a bad sign of what was yet to come.

I should explain that when I was growing up, my father was always the guy who read every manual and every bit of instructions before starting a project. But as he’s gotten older, he’s changed. He now disdains such things as being only for mere mortals. Which is why I was the one holding my car’s owner manual pointing frantically at the tiny diagram as my father wreaked havoc under the hood of my ancient Explorer.

Oh, sure. It sounded simple. Remove the old bulb; install the new one. But is it ever really that easy? Maybe it would be if the space you had to work in was designed for adult-sized hands rather than those of a three year old considered small for their age. Or if the bulb had ever been previously changed. (To my knowledge, this hadn’t happened in the life of the car, which rolled off the assembly line the same year I graduated college.)

But it wasn’t, and it hadn’t. Add the fact that my father considered himself above such things as reading the directions, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

I won’t go into the gory details. Not only would it bore you to tears, but my therapist has advised me against it. Suffice it to say, it had all the ingredients of a bad cable miniseries. There was bad language, ranting, pleading, tears, a scuffle, too much drama and was dragged out entirely too long.

In the end, my father was cranky and I was frazzled, but my headlight was, indeed, functioning once more.

Now I just have to pray the other bulb has plenty of useful life left, because I don’t think I could face a repeat performance any time soon.

What’s in a name?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Yesterday was an exciting day for me. After five months of pregnancy, it was the day I finally got to go to the doctor’s office and find out the big surprise; boy or girl.

Although I was certain I already knew the answer, I was still excited to hear the doctor confirm that this time I would be having a girl. For the last few months, I’ve been picking out girl names and my oldest sister has been explaining that I have to have a girl so that she doesn’t have to. (After having two boys, she would rather just share a girl with me than to actually try for one again on her own.)
To my utter shock and amazement, however, the first thing I saw when the baby appeared on the screen was not indicative of a baby girl. No, I was proven wrong on Wednesday. The new addition to my home will not be a little girl as I had originally thought, but a happy little baby boy.

Of course, I will be thrilled as long as he is happy and healthy, but this does pose a dilemma, and not just because my sister may have to rethink her plans about future children. Since I was convinced that I was having a girl, I haven’t really dedicated much time to picking out a name for a little boy. In fact, I have no idea where to begin. Sure, I have the next four months to think it over, but I’ve decided a little input might help. So, any suggestions?

Are you sure this is high school theater?

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

I had to ask myself that question last night as I sat in the darkened auditorium at Greene High School watching a dress rehearsal for the school’s spring musical, Beauty and the Beast.

I’m no novice to high school theatrical productions. While I’ve never starred in one of these shows, trust me when I tell you that I’ve attended more than my fair share. My mother, a true lover of musical theater, has been dragging me to productions up and down the Chenango Valley for much of my life. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific (my personal fav) and the host of other shows which typically make the rounds on the high school stage.

While my years at Manhattan College afforded me the opportunity to take in a host of college productions and even a few Broadway and off-Broadway shows, local high school theater will always have a special place in my heart. And not just because it’s become something of a mother/daughter tradition.

No, it’s watching students spread their wings on stage that gets me every time. While the performances might not be perfectly polished, they always have heart. And because you expect a little of the good, the bad and the ugly, there is always the chance that you’ll have those expectations totally blown out of the water.

That was me last night: Blown away.

It was just an early dress rehearsal, mind you. (The curtain doesn’t officially rise until Friday night.) There were the usual snags with sound, lighting, missing props and even a little wet paint. But while it may have been a little rough around the edges, it was phenomenal none the less.

The set was nothing short of perfection; the costumes truly awe-inspiring. I’m not sure which was my favorite: Cogsworth (Tim Sininger), Lumiere (Patrick Daniels), Wardrobe (Kortney Miranda), Mrs. Potts (Rachel Paukett) or the Beast himself (Ryan Schultz). And I absolutely loved the nine dancing Cupcakes from the “Be our guest” number. They would have done the Broadway production proud.

But of course, it wasn’t the costumes, but the students wearing them that truly make the show. The clear, dulcet voice of Kasey Heisler as Belle, George Flanagan’s thoroughly chauvinistic Gaston and the portrayal of the Beast’s complex character by Ryan Schultz will definitely wow audiences this weekend, as will the rest of the talented cast.

How good are they? Let’s put it this way, at one point during the Beast’s final number in the first act, I completely forgot I was sitting in on a dress rehearsal in a high school auditorium. It was that moving.

Greene High School Footlight’s production of Beauty and the Beast is definitely something local theater lovers won’t want to miss. I know I’ll be queueing up to buy tickets this weekend myself, so that I can see the show in its full glory.

I’ll be getting two, of course. One for me, and one for my mom.

Cutting until it hurts

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

There have been a lot of cuts to state programs as a result of the budget deficit, and on most accounts, I think I’ve given Governor Paterson the benefit of the doubt.

As the new taxes on things from hair cuts to golf games to soda have been proposed, I haven’t complained (much) and I’ve even tried to look at the reasons why those additional taxes are necessary. Then came the funding cuts. Local municipalities and school districts, already hurting, have been asked to hold their breath and hope for the best as the state funding picture is determined. And despite the fact that a lot of districts are talking about layoffs or massive tax increases, I could still see where the state government was coming from. To save a lot of money, we need to look at the bigger expenses and try to find ways to cut back.

I can try to find the positive in a lot of the things the state is doing, but when I heard this morning that the state has decided to stop providing the NY Lottery Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship, citing budget worries, I had to wonder what our state officials are really thinking.

I understand that the scholarship is not a mandatory program. Sure, it’s an expense that we could do without, but in these economic times, as it is getting harder and harder for students to get loans for school, is this really the time to cut the programs that would help those kids get a head. How many students could have been helped by that funding? And how many are going to be struggling without the financial assistance that program provided?

I know that the state needs to cut the budget and figure out a way to keep New Yorkers from struggling under the property tax burden, but they need to do so without taking away the few programs that actually help residents to succeed on their own.

*** I learned about this story after reading reports from other news sites and getting e-mails from upset parents. A link to one of those stories is posted below.

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=6682548

After this blog was posted, we received the following response from the NY Lottery:

NEW YORK LOTTERY INVITES HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS TO APPLY FOR
$5,000 LEADERS OF TOMORROW SCHOLARSHIP

The New York Lottery is now accepting applications for the $5,000 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship for the 2009-10 academic year.

“One graduating senior from every participating public and private high school across New York State will receive a Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship this year,” said New York Lottery Director Gordon Medenica. “I strongly encourage those community-minded students in the Class of 2009 to learn more about this important financial aid opportunity to help them complete their higher education here in New York State.”

The Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship recognizes strong academic achievement as well a student’s participation in extracurricular activities and his or her demonstrated commitment to community service. The $5,000 scholarship is distributed in payments of $625 per semester and may be applied toward the cost of attendance at any New York State accredited college, university, trade school or community college.

Participating high schools are required to submit the names of two students to the Lottery for consideration. A multidisciplinary selection panel comprised of professional educators, administrators, counselors and other qualified staff then reviews candidate applications and selects a winner. The second nominee may be eligible to receive the scholarship in the event the original recipient cannot accept the award.

Application materials for the 2009-10 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship are now available at high schools statewide. Interested students may inquire about the program through their Principal’s office or Guidance department.

The deadline for schools to return completed applications and accompanying student transcripts to the Lottery for consideration is April 8, 2009.

The Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship is an extension of the New York Lottery’s mission to raise revenue to support education in New York State. Since 1999 the New York Lottery has awarded more than 10,000 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarships to high school graduates across New York State.

The New York Lottery partners with New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) and University of Albany’s Capital Area School District Association, (CASDA), to administer the program. For more information about Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship, call 518-525-2686.
The New York Lottery contributed nearly $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2007-08 to help support education in New York State, over 13 percent of total state education funding to local school districts. The New York Lottery continues to be North America’s largest and most profitable Lottery, earning over $34.2 billion in education support statewide since its founding over 40 years ago.

Confessions of a party crasher

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

I’m not usually much of a party crasher, but I made an exception this weekend. While visiting my friend Liz and her husband Kent in Connecticut, I tagged along with them to a party they’d been invited to back over the border in New York.

The party was an annual one, hosted by Marjorie and Greg McCord in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Despite the fact that Jorie and I went to college together, shared a shore house for a few summers in those post-college years and even played supporting roles in Liz and Kent’s wedding, I’ve never before managed to wangle an invitation to the much anticipated yearly event. But with Liz and Kent on the guest list, I saw my chance.

And now that I’ve been once, wild Irish horses (if there are such a thing) won’t keep me from crashing it again next year. (Jorie and Greg: Consider yourselves forewarned!)

Now, don’t be misled by my Italian surname. I trace more than half my heritage to the lush green isle from which St. Patrick chased all those pesky snakes centuries ago. And between my family, friends and four years at Manhattan College (the fact that the school’s colors are kelly green and white should tell you something), I’ve celebrated the occasion with the best of them. Or so I thought. Nothing I have ever experienced has compared with the holiday celebrated McCord style. It was truly the (Irish) creme de la creme of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

From the leprechaun toilet seat cover to the baskets of green beads, pins and temporary shamrock tattoos available so people could “Irish up” if they came unprepared, the McCords missed nothing in their attention to detail.

Everything had an Irish flare, including the finger foods set out before the guests arrived. Sure there was your typical chips and salsa, and cheese and crackers. But the salsa was green and the cheese straight from Ireland. Yum.

We arrived about an hour early to the party (I know, early and uninvited, how rude!), to find Jorie and Greg in the final stages of preparing 40 pounds of corned beef for the occasion. Yes, that’s right. 40 pounds. There were, of course, piles of cabbage, potatoes and carrots to go along with it.

Guests (of which between 40 and 60 were expected) were asked to bring something suitable for celebrating St. Pat’s Day. Liz, who is obviously not Irish, interpreted this as anything green and brought edamame. I went with mint chocolate flavored Bailey’s, and pretended I didn’t know her.

Despite the fact that I was introduced to most of the other guests as they arrived, I honestly don’t remember any names. What I do remember is what delectable dish they brought with them. Marjorie’s mother, for example, came bearing the most amazing Irish soda bread I’d ever tasted (served with real Irish butter of course.)

Then came the homemade potato soup, the Irish pigs-in-a-blanket, the rainbow punch spiked with Amaretto and some kind of rice dish which I can’t begin to describe. Just when I thought I’d eaten my fill, the Asian salad (complete with cashews) was passed around.

And finally, last but certainly not least, the Bailey’s truffles. One bite of those powdered sugar coated, Irish cream flavored balls of chocolate and I was in love. And I wasn’t the only one. Marjorie was forced to physically remove the plate of truffles from Dana’s hands after said guest tried to keep them all for herself. (I think Dana’s husband tried to cut her off after she kept going on about “Dave’s balls” – Dave being the gentleman who made the truffles.)

There was even talk of a fan club, complete with facebook fan page and  commemorative t-shirts. I’m anxiously awaiting my invitation.

Because of the two hour drive, we had to leave early and therefore missed the annual ping pong tournament and other festivities planned for the night. I didn’t want to go, but Liz, like some kind of Irish pied piper, lured me to the car with a piece of buttered Irish soda bread.

But never fear; as Arnold says, “I’ll be back.”

Voting in Chenango County

Friday, March 20th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

I love when I have the opportunity to vote. It doesn’t matter whether I’m voting in a presidential election or for a local school board member, it’s great to feel like your opinion actually matters and you have a say in who is going to represent you for the next few years.

After hearing the results of the last batch of local elections, I have to wonder how many people are actually taking the opportunity to voice their own opinion. On Wednesday, several villages throughout the county held elections for some local positions.

There were two issues with most of these elections. First of all, very few of the candidates ran with any opposition. In fact, out of all of the races in the county, I think only two positions had actual competition for the seats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as someone is willing to do the job, I guess that is a positive for the community, but the fact that so few people want to get involved seems like a problem to me.

The other issue with the races is the number of people who actually took the time to vote. Now maybe people think it is silly to vote in an election when there is only one person running, but it’s still a right that people in this country have and something that should be taken advantage of.

In one village, the total number of voters who came out to cast their ballots was 17. I know that some of these areas have very small populations, but for only 17 people to come out for an entire election seems pretty ridiculous. Is it even worth the money to pay someone to monitor the voting booths for that long?

Here in Chenango County, and everywhere, I think we need more local involvement. I’m the first to admit that I probably won’t be running for public office anytime soon, but I will make sure that I vote in every election I can and that I make an effort to stay informed about what is happening in my hometown, my state and my country. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s something all of us should make an effort to do.

Investigative reporting

Friday, March 20th, 2009
Tyler Murphy

So in a rare occurrence, a random post on the Evening Sun forum contained accurate information that was only a few hours old. Forum poster Strongman712 said a gas well exploded in the Earlville area at 5 a.m.

 

Jessica Lewis and I followed up on the posted forum topic, expecting some over exaggerated happenstance by calling local fire and emergency officials in Chenango, none of which had a clue to what we were talking about. Our skepticism grew.

 

So in a last effort to see if there was something to the post I called the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to see if maybe something happened on their side of the boarder- and that’s exactly what happened. So thank you, Mr. Strongman712.

 

Although reporters rarely get an opportunity to work together at a scene Jessica and I both traveled to the remote rig in the far reaches of Lebanon. It took me about 20 minutes scrolling through online maps to find the local roads that mapquest refused to admit existed. But after painstakingly searching about every inch of the Town of Lebanon a quarter mile at a time on the computer I found Soule and Chamberlain Road, the two mentioned by the Madison Deputies.

 

Jessica being an Otselic Valley country native navigated us to the road and we just simplly drove along it until we saw the emergency closed road sign and the fire trucks.Other than the Eaton Fire Chief Rick Stoddard I can’t honestly say the emergency crews or the gas company’s personnel were very helpful at the scene. The firefighters told us that Nornew told them we weren’t allowed at the scene and that we might even have to leave the roadway if Nornew wanted. I tried to imagine how Nornew had the right to tell me anything or order the fire department around.

 

One Eaton volunteer even said that the pipeline could blow up at any time and kill us all right where we were standing and on those grounds, the company could basically makes us do what they wanted. He’s lucky I didn’t quote him in the story. Obviously the gas well wasn’t the only thing blowing hot air because if the company’s operations were truly that volatile than the public has truly been misled.

 

Nornew declined to meet with us at the scene and instead referred us to spokesman Dennis Holbrook. Later I called Holbrook and was impressed with his openness with the incident. He answered all the questions I had and explained in-depth the companies operations and the injuries. I applaud their transparency and willingness to work with the press and the public.

 

So Jessy and I left the scene not able to see anything but a muddy road leading into the woods. We decided to see if perhaps one of the neighboring property owners might be able to tell us who owned the well and maybe they’d allow us on the land for a photograph. We came across a farm house and were met by a kind and talkative gentleman named Don Johnson.

 

He told us about how the sound of the explosion woke him up at 5 a.m. The interview took place on his front lawn with the flickering gas well fire peeking between the trees. The fire could be heard making a loud roar even though we were hundreds of yards away. After first considering to climb up on a silo for a good photograph, Don suggested I climb the hill for a better view. So I ran up the hill with my most powerful lens and took the best pictures I could. Less than an hour later, the fire was put out.

 

Jess and I then drove back to the office. It was fun.

Change in the weather…

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

With spring in the air, it seems like the perfect season for a fresh start. Winter can be sad and depressing and sometimes the events and happenings that take place in the winter months can be sad and depressing too. (It hasn’t been a walk in the park for me.) But as the snow melts and the flowers begin to grow, it seems like the perfect time to shed the old and take advantage of some new beginnings.

Although this might be the type of thing more expected at the beginning of the year, I’ve always found spring to be a better time to assess the last year of my life and decide what changes I would like to make in the future. Some of those changes have already been set in motion. But others are still up in the air and are just waiting for the right action before they can be set on their paths.

All of my plans are pretty vague at the moment. What do I plan to do? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m going to do my best to enjoy every minute of it. It seems like a much easier concept to grasp when the sun is shinning and the birds are singing. With the dreary winter months behind me, it’s time to set those goals. I know I want to become more independent. To take every opportunity I have.  To cherish every moment I spend with my wonderful son and to look forward to the moments I will spend with the new baby I expect to arrive in August.

Okay so it’s all pretty vague and sappy, but it’s the type of positive attitude I hope I can keep all year long.

Spring is in the air

Monday, March 16th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

The first official day of spring may not be until Friday, but we don’t need a date marked on the calendar to tell us the change of seasons is upon us. For weeks, there have been signs that winter’s hold on upstate New York is finally starting to slip. Gaggles of geese are flying North once more, farmers have tapped their maple trees and skunks are sacrificing themselves in ever increasing numbers along our rural highways and byways.

My mother has been patiently (or perhaps not-so patiently) waiting for what she considers to be the true portent of spring: the first red-breasted robins and red wing blackbirds of the year. And this weekend we were treated to the sight of both feathered creatures along with the blackbird’s tri-colored brethren.

We took full advantage of the mild weather and cloudless sky to go flying with my dad. Yes, it comes in handy to have a pilot/flight instructor in the family. Let me tell you, it was a picture perfect day for a flight. (It’s OK to be a little jealous.)

While the hills still have the look of late winter (predominately brown accented with the white of lingering snow), you could tell from the air that it won’t be too long before everything is decked out in spring’s signature green.

I honestly can’t wait. I’m more than ready for warmer weather and a chance to spend more quality time outside. In fact, I’m counting down the days before I can pack away my winter clothes and don sandals and short sleeves once more.

And I know I’m not the only one. I think everyone is as anxious as I am for spring. In my travels this weekend, I saw so many people out biking and walking. There were motorcyclists out cruising (including the American Legion Riders from Norwich which I spotted heading south on Route 12) and even a convertible or two brave enough to put their tops down.

Winter may not have had its last say, but there is no reason not to think spring. Get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasts.

Appearing for one night only…at Nathanael Greene’s

Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

At the turn of the (21st) century, I spent a year back in upstate New York. When I tell people my life story, I tell them it was the year I took off from my life. It was a time of switching gears for me, because I had decided I’d had enough of my chosen field (Market Research) and yearned for something different.

So I took a year off and returned home, ostensibly to go to grad school at Binghamton University and take flying lessons. But what really happened was that I bartended (much to my parent’s chagrin), spent a year exploring a few different creative outlets and did a lot of introspection before packing up and heading south in search of gainful employment in marketing once again. Without either a graduate degree or a pilot’s license, I might add.

Believe it or not, I remember most of that year fondly. Bartending was, well, let’s just say it was interesting. Within hours of my arrival back in Chenango County I fell into a job at what was then the Silo City Club in Norwich, which I thought was impressive as I’d never really bartended before. Luckily, I’d been mixing martinis for my father for years.

I’d like to think I was a quick study, but Rhonda, who had to train me, may have another story to tell. But before too long I was bantering with the regulars, scrutinizing anyone I didn’t know and wowing everyone with my signature margarita.

Bartending, like waiting tables, is something I think everyone should have to do at least once in their life. It gives you a different perspective. (And makes you better tippers.)

Anyone who has ever bartended can attest to the fact that you see a different side of people when you’re on the other side of the bar. There are good times, don’t get me wrong. But there are also a few things, like Thursday night karaoke, which I’d hoped I would one day succeed in blocking out. No such luck. To this day, I can’t listen to Johnny Cash without getting flashbacks.

When I moved back here last year, I was amazed at how many people remembered me from my days behind the bar at the City Club. It also scared me a little that I remembered what some of them drank. (A sign that they frequented the establishment a little too often, perhaps?)

I never thought I’d get a chance to put that residual knowledge to good use, but it might come in handy this weekend. You see, I’m signed up to do a guest bartending gig on Saturday night at Nathanael Greene’s Publick House on Genesee Street in Greene.

Enzo and Irene Olivieri, who own the fine establishment, are letting me make a special one-night appearance. I’ll recap the experience for a Punching the Clock article next week, of course.

Will it feel a little bit like I’m cheating, since I’ve bartended before? Maybe, but who cares! It’s been at least 8 years since I’ve been behind the bar. I know it will be a blast.

So come one, come all to Nathanael Greene’s on Saturday night. You’ll get to put my rusty bartending skills to the test and might even get to see your name in print. Just make sure you’ve got your wallet with you – I’ll expect you to tip.