Archive for July, 2010

“Tree” wood

Friday, July 30th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

No one sets out purposely to offend the golfing gods. But unfortunately, sometimes it just happens.

I’m very conscious of staying in the good graces of these capricious demi-deities. I try to pay homage to them, by sacrificing more than my fair share of (usually new) golf balls in at least one water hazard at each course I play. Making my obeisance in the sand is a ritual part of any trip to the links. Tees, I donate by the dozen.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to appease the golfing divinities, you still manage to get on their bad side. Like I did last night.

Thursdays, as you may remember, are my golf league nights. Those evenings, when I get to spend a few blissful hours out swinging my clubs in the company of the always-entertaining lady Gofers, are my favorite night of the week. My partners in crime for last night’s outing were Belinda and Lisa, and I was indeed looking forward to the occasion.

I arrived at Canasawacta at the pre-arranged time (4:45 p.m.), ready and raring to go. Unfortunately, it was already pretty backed up at the first tee, as the rest of our league jockeyed to get out at the same time. Thankfully Belinda, who had arrived before me, was on top of it. She’d already cleared it with the helpful young man in the pro shop for us to jump ahead to hole 5, thus circumventing the congestion. And as soon as Lisa pulled up, we were off.

My drive off 5 was picture perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I should have immediately sensed something was drastically wrong. But I chose, instead, to revel in my far-too-infrequent fairway shot. I finished the hole well too, just further lulling myself into a false sense of security. After an almost equally beautiful drive on 6, I was feeling no pain. In fact, after my second shot put with me within sneezing distance of the green, I was ready to start gloating.

And that, my friends, is when it all fell apart.

I couldn’t sink a put to save my life. It was so bad that for a moment, I actually considered someone had played some slick jokes with magnets. But no. It was just me. And the golfing gods.

And, it only went down hill from there. I saw parts of that course that I never new existed. Most of them wooded.

The saddest part is that I dragged Lisa right down with me. Personally, I think she was trying to make me feel better. Honestly, I don’t think there was tree on that course that one of us didn’t hit. Thank goodness wood nymphs are only a myth, because if they did exist, they wouldn’t have been pleased.

Belinda, on the other hand, found it hysterical.

Of course, she wasn’t hitting any trees.

She did refrain, however, from making any “tree” wood jokes in my presence, for which I am eternally grateful. Although that was, obviously, the only club I had in my bag last night.

By the time I got back to the car, I’d decided it was high time I stopped relying on the fickle nature of the golfing gods.

Perhaps, instead, I’ll make use of those golf lessons my mom so generously gifted me for my birthday.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Coincidence?

Friday, July 30th, 2010
Brian Golden

I have a lot of trouble believing in the concept of coincidence as it applies to everyday life. And while I’m certainly not the most religious of personages (although I do have a spiritual outlook on life) I find what some people call coincidence to be nothing more than things working out the way they were supposed to, especially since I began writing for our hometown daily newspaper.

Example Number One – The fact that the very weekend I had given up on my house, and had decided I would be better off plying my musical talents elsewhere in New York State (or anywhere else for that matter), I saw that familiar ad in the pages of The Evening Sun seeking a staff writer, which, in the long run, resulted in me sitting here right now typing this blog.

Number Two – One of my all-time favorite stories which I’ve written in the seven-plus months I’ve been here – a mysterious World War II dog tag bearing the name of Richard W. Hamilton, North Broad Street, unearthed in a California desert, which eventually found its way back to Norwich and ultimately wound up in the possession of a nearby co-worker (Linda works about ten feet away from me) whose mother just happened to be the deceased veteran’s closest living relative (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what are the odds).

Thirdly – Not only do I now have a job that is immensely rewarding, I have the opportunity to cover my hometown, the city I grew up in, and all of the events that come with that coverage. Bluesfest, Colorscape, the Pumpkin Festival, the Summer Concert Series, local businesses in which I’ve shopped for decades (such as First Edition – owner Lisa Mody clearly remembers me visiting her store on a regular basis when I was as young as 7 years old) and numerous others. These are events and experiences which I enjoyed long before I wrote for the paper.

So I suppose I really wasn’t all that surprised when I hiked over to the First Edition Book Store on Thursday to meet with ‘What Kind of Apple Are You’ author Barbara Mudge, only find out that – not only did she grow up a literal hop, skip and jump away from my house (the property has been in my family for three generations now), her closest friends as a youngster were my aunts Lori and Marianne Golden, now Lori Bres and Marianne Morano, who actually make an appearance in this, Barbara’s first published book.

Again, what are the odds.

This put an entirely different spin on my thought process as we sat down to discuss her book signing on Saturday, and I found myself covered with goosebumps as we related various stories and memories of Pratt Road and the surrounding countryside to eachother. I was amazed by the number of experiences we had in common, even with our twenty year age difference. The intimidating slabs of stone on the hillside about a mile south of my house (my father always called them “The Cave Rocks”), fishing and swimming in Glenn Lake, building forts in the woods and a host of other tales and youth-inspired adventures. It gave me an instant sense of “rightness,” a feeling I simply cannot dismiss as mere happenstance.

The result of this fortuitous meeting? It turns out Barbara had lost touch with my aunts over the years and if nothing else, our meeting meant I could make their reconnection that much easier (thank you Facebook). There’s really nothing else quite like the friends we had as children (a blog for another day), and I’m looking forward to hearing the surprise in my aunt Marianne’s voice when I call her up and say – “you’ll never believe who I ran into the other day.”

Coincidence? I think not.

Kitty in a Sink

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

About a week and a half ago, I received an email from Sue Reymers, Director of Development for the Chenango SPCA. She had a proposition for me. My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to help judge the SPCA’s first ever “FUR-ever Pet” photo contest.

Why not, I said. After all, there are worse ways to spend a lunch hour than looking at pictures of cute and cuddly pets.

Sure, secretly I wondered why Sue had picked me. While I’m inordinately fond of Lulu, my formerly-feral feline, I’m hardly an animal lover of the same magnitude as some in the community. And lets face it, I’m not known for my photography skills. (Although I like to think I can at least recognize a good photo when I see one, even if the taking of one escapes me.)

But I do love to give my opinion on things when the opportunity presents itself. Based on that alone, accepting the invitation was a no-brainer.

Only after I RSVPed, did I realize Sue’s motivation for requesting my assistance probably had more to do with the fact that I was sure to blog about it afterwards. And here I am, proving her right.

Oh, how I hate being so predictable…

But that didn’t stop me from presenting myself at the Chenango SPCA at the designated time to do my part in determining Best in Show for the all-too-cute photo contest. Sharing my judging duties were none other than Dr. Al and Mrs. Marilyn Kochersperger, and the shelter’s operations director, Lisa Teller.

Sue was there as well, serving as a facilitator of sorts and helping us keep focused on the task at hand. Which was definitely a good thing, since it was far too easy to fall into oohing and aahing over each one of those cutesy photos. Forget about the whole judging thing.

I was truly impressed with the applicant pool. I think there were something like 90 submissions in all, and as I said, each one more adorable than the last. I was pretty pleased with myself for being able to narrow it down to just 5 within a few minutes.

Granted, I’d spent close to an hour looking at them all the previous day, and there were some great ones we weren’t allowed to consider. Those being ones  entered by members of the SPCA’s board and others affiliated with the shelter.

All of the pictures were great, but I do have one thing I’d like to say to pet owners the world over. I mean no offense, but the next time you’re tempted to accessorize your beloved fur-covered friend with a hat or, heaven forbid, sunglasses, please reconsider. I’m speaking on behalf of the animals here when I ask you – beg, you – to resist. Just say no. Trust me, your pets will thank you for it.

But I digress…

Being more of a cat person myself, felines outweighed their canine counterparts 3 to 2 on my short list. If you had a chance to peruse the list of competitors, I’ll tell you that Muddie, Toven, and Zeke were my feline favs. And Bo and Picha out-dogged the rest of the pack, in my opinion.

Alas, none of the above appeared on the list of the dog-loving Kocherspergers and I had almost despaired of ever finding a middle ground, until Lisa rattled off her picks.

I rejoiced to hear Toven (or “Kitty in a Sink,” as I like to call him). Also on her list was Shamrock, a favorite of the Kocherspergers.

It didn’t take us long to decide to split the Best in Show distinction, in order to recognize both of these photos.

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize two other photos, and the dogs featured in them. Sophie and Oscar were right up there, in my opinion. But because their owners  – Leslie Bernardi and Ann Coe, respectively – are both CSPCA board members, they weren’t eligible for the Best in Show prize. Both were front runners for the grand prize, though, which was determined by online “votes.” Also known as donations.

Zulu, however, pulled off a last minute victory in that regard. Coming from a distant fourth just 10 hours before voting ended, to come out as top dog in the end.

All three winners received some great prizes from the CSPCA, as well as recognition on the organizations website and at the shelter. To view the winning entries, visit www.chenangospca.org. They will also be published at a later date in The Evening Sun.

The good news for the rest of you pet-lovers out there is that the CSPCA is already talking about next year’s FUR-ever Friend photo contest. So get snapping.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Gone Fishin’

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

One of the many outdoor passions of my youth was fishing. I haven’t really had the opportunity to cast a reel for several years and after talking up the glamorized thrills from my exaggerated childhood memories for a day or two I was eager to get the chance.

Having never been before in her 25 years of life, I was able to talk my girlfriend, Colleen, into joining me for the trip. We do a lot of outdoor activities together and fishing seemed like a natural fit.

On the shore, hooks dangling, I snatched a dirt covered nightcrawler and approached.

Despite Colleen’s formidable constitution earned during her childhood years as the daughter of a dairy farmer, she back away with disgust and a suspicious looking grin. This is when the whole activity started to give me pause.

Though I had recalled many-a-fine fishing memories in the days leading up to the trip I neglected to remember that gruesome act of holding a squirming 6 inch worm as I forced it onto a piece of barbed metal. As I took hold of the hook I also realized I’d have to perform this gruesome act right in front of the wide eyed girlfriend.

If you’ve never done this or haven’t had the chance to see it allow me to explain. First it’s good to realize that the typical store bought nightcrawler is between 4 and 8 inches, depending on how far they decide to stretch.

First you have to tightly press the worm between your fingers. A film of fine silt and slime slips across your skin, like you just wiped a running nose with sand. As you do this the worm’s other end tends to whip wildly striking your palm and backhand hard enough to make an occasional smacking sound.

Like weaving a organic accordion you work the hook along the worm’s body until you’re satisfied it can’t slip free. Despite being impaled the length of its body most nightcrawlers will continue to fight against the penetrating steel even after they’ve been tossed into the water. Every once in a while you get a worm too big to use in just one baiting and you have to physically tear it in half, convenient if there are two people.

So I pressed a fingernail into the worm’s middle guts and yanked it apart, it elastically stretched out then snapped in half. I turned and reached out to Colleen with the other half.

I had raise the bar of expectation too high perhaps and was immediately confronted with a very resolute sounding, “Nah, that’s OK. You can do it.”

This whole experience never even gave me pause as a kid but as an adult who carefully takes spiders out of house in tissues and hates to squish even an ant on the sidewalk, I suddenly felt very cruel.

The next hurdle came later when (of course) the first fish we caught together swallowed the worm, hook line and sinker. I pulled the medium sized Yellow Perch out of the water and Colleen came over to see the next skill she’s have to harness in order to be a fisherwoman.

I open the fish’s mouth and all I could see was a line leading into the depths of his gullet. Another important thing to know about fishing is it isn’t always harmless. Although 95 percent of the time a hook will be caught near the fish’s mouth and easily removed with some patience and pliers an over eager minority seem to set the hook deep in the digestive system. At this point there are two choices, cut the line or risk removing the hook. Both have the potential to kill a fish through infection or injury. The problem is amplified the smaller the fish.

So like a bomb technician standing along side a pond I surgically reached inside with my needle nose pliers and began testing the resistance on the hook. If it had been a fuse we’d be dead. Long story short it was a heartfelt attempt but in the end I had to cut the line. I hate doing this because I’m an environmentally conscience sportsman, I like to catch, release and relax in the sun. The smaller my impact on the ecosystem the better.

The day did eventually move on and after the initial failures there was a rush of excitement as we reeled in a number of decent sized Sunfish, Chain Pickerel, and even a Brown Bullhead. Colleen actually hooked the trophy of the experience, a sizable Largemouth Bass.

Over all the trip must have been a success because we later went on a few more fishing trips. There was a beautiful four pound Largemouth Bass I pulled from Millbrook Pond. That high achievement was then followed by the low comedy of accidentally getting myself caught on a hook while it was still in the fish’s mouth. Nothing hurts like connecting your finger tip to a heavy fish with serrated metal as it flops around for dear life. Funnier yet was watching Colleen put her first worm on the hook. Using two leaves she cleverly managed to get the worm on the hook without ever actually touching it. Though it took about 25 minutes to complete the task.

151

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

As much as I hate to disappoint you, my dear readers, I’m about to. Because I know you saw the title of this, my most recent blog, and greedily clicked on it, eager to hear some salacious tale involving that highly flammable, high-octane booze which has no doubt sparked all kinds of drunken debauchery: Bacardi 151.

Sorry to disappoint, but this epistle has nothing whatsoever to do with partying it up Bacardi style. In fact, it’s about the biggest anti-party of all: work.

You see, this marks my 151st blog for the Evening Sun. That’s right, I’ve now penned 151 of these suckers, in which I’ve pouring my heart, soul, hopes, dreams and a whole lot of bs into the blogosphere.

Without a doubt, this opportunity to shoot the proverbial *$#^ with our online readership is one of my favorite parts of my job at The Evening Sun. A job at which, I might add, I celebrated my two year anniversary yesterday.

371 days after the fact, I still vividly remember my first day at this esteemed paper. I got to sleep in that morning, since I didn’t have to present myself until after deadline. Little did I know it would be the last weekday (other than a holiday or two) when I’d get to do that.

Since my first (admittedly uninspiring) brief  – about the Oxford PD’s acquisition of a new Durango – over 825 articles have appeared under my byline. Which averages out to roughly 8 per week.

I know, you’d think I’d have gotten better at it by now, right? Yet here I am still agonizing over every word and sweating out each deadline.

Perfection takes time, I keep telling Jeff, explaining my philosophy on writing as a craft. But he just looks nonplused and tells me what time it is.

Some days it feels hard to believe I’ve been at this desk typing away for two years. On others, the number the calendar provides feels like a far too conservative estimate. It feels like decades, for example, if I’m recovering from a string of school board meetings.

School board meetings. *Groan.*

Attending these meetings is something of a necessary evil for me. I have no idea how many I’ve gone to in the last 24 months, although I feel safe to say it is more than any human should have to endure in a lifetime – unless they are elected to do so, of course. But important stories come out of them, so I have to be there in order to do my job to the best of my ability.

If my job was a spaghetti western a la Clint Eastwood, school board meetings would be the Bad AND the Ugly. But luckily there is the Good to balance it out.

Columns and blogs definitely fall into this category. And I really love the hands-on stuff, like the Punching the Clock series we used to do and Delivering Christmas around the holidays. Just meeting people I don’t know and hearing their stories is a thrill for me. And it’s always a privilege to, in turn, tell that story to our readers.

Sure, you could say that makes me a nosy busy-body. You’d even be right. But in this job, it serves me well.

There are times when I have my doubts about my chosen field. There are long days, late nights and far too many weekends covering fairs, graduations and the like. And lets face it, being a reporter isn’t exactly one of the highest paid professions. So why do I keep doing what I do? Why do any of us, for that matter?

For me at least, it’s because I love to write, and I consider it a privilege to be able to make an albeit meager living doing it every day. And in my heart I feel I am doing good by being here – whether it’s by raising awareness of issues, highlighting positive points in our community, or keeping people informed about what’s taking place in town and school board meetings.

It also feeds my needy little ego. Because all it takes is for one person to tell me they were touched by my words – or that a humorous column gave them a much-needed laugh – to make it all worthwhile.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last two years as much as I have.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

It’s like riding a bike!

Monday, July 19th, 2010
Brian Golden

“It’s just like riding a bike.”
At least that’s what I tried to tell myself – and boy I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

From the time I was 6 until I reached the age of 18 my summers with my father were filled with sunny weekends spent boating, and more specifically water-skiing, on many of the lakes that dot Chenango County and surrounding areas. Our usual destination was Chenango Lake, although we made numerous trips out to East Sidney Reservoir and other appropriately-sized bodies of water. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to college dad sold the boat, and that was the last time I got to experience that exhilarating feeling of cutting through the water, going airborne as I hit the wake (at what now seems like reckless speeds) only to dig deep and put up a 12 foot spray while the reflection of the azure sky filled the glass-like waters below me.

Fast forward 15 years to last weekend.

My close friends Annie and Jeff, in the last two years, have been kind enough to regularly invite me up to their family’s camp for many a weekend barbecue, a quick dip in the lake to cool off on a sunny day and my favorite – acoustic guitar while sitting around the campfire. And while they own a pair of jet-skis capable of pulling one around the lake on a tube (an experience I’m loath to repeat – but that’s another story), there was never an opportunity to relive my glory days of zipping through the water by ski. Until last Friday, that is.

When Annie reported her sister would be visiting camp for her daughter’s graduation party, and would be taking her boat out for an afternoon and early evening of water-skiing, I jumped at the chance to once again strap on a ski and cut through the drink. In all honesty I relished the opportunity. Little did I know, however, the experience would be quite painful, liberating, yet extremely emotional.

Everything began quite well really, minus the fact I’d overlooked one simple truth – I am no longer 18 years old and I’m certainly not in as good a shape as I thought I was. Following two failed attempts to get up on one ski (known as slalom to you anti-water types) I regretfully strapped on a second ski and was up in a heartbeat. I knew immediately that I was in trouble went I felt the first twinges of pain only minutes into my excursion, and my first circuit around the lake ended with a semi-spectacular crash as I misjudged my speed and went rolling over the top of the water. After a much-deserved round of ribbing by Annie’s sister and the others in the boat I was right back on top of the water.

My second trip around the lake found me much more relaxed and as I once again ventured outside the wake I let my mind wander back to those childhood days with my father. It was almost as if I could hear his voice again, patiently instructing an excited 6-year-old on the basics of the sport. It was an emotional experience to say the least and probably the closest I’ve felt to dad since his death. Shaking the last vestiges of the memories away I came to a decision – since I couldn’t make it up on one ski I would just shake one off, while cruising atop the water, and continue my little adventure (this was the original method dad taught me as a child until I was strong enough to pull myself up on one ski). Unfortunately, I was once again betrayed by my aging body and with a tremendous splash I was down again, this time for good.

Looking back, water-skiing was more than just a recreational sport for my weekend family, it was a time for us to bond while having some fun and staying cool on those hot summer days, and even though this most recent outing did not go quite as expected, it was also so much more than I could have anticipated. Three days have gone by and I’m still extremely sore, yet I can still hear that voice in the back of my head. Even with the pain, to be expected after 15 years, I was unsurprised by my response when asked if I’d be willing to try again some other time. My answer – you’d better believe it.

A day in the life of a small town reporter

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

Since my coverage area is firmly rooted in the Southern most provinces of Chenango County, it’s not often that I venture north. But on Friday, I did just that, making my way to the Earlville Opera House to address a group of the non-profit’s “Roving Reporters.”

Unfortunately, I was held up at the office, and was therefore a few minute late for my designated 15 minutes with these intrepid young people, who were eager to ask questions about what life is like as an real-life reporter. (Really, they were.)

So instead of launching into my carefully prepared talk on the ins and outs of being a small town reporter, I decided to start with a caveat about how, no matter how meticulously you plan your day, a reporter always have to be prepared to drop everything to pursue a breaking story or whatever else may arise.

What held me up fell solidly into the latter category, relating to my need to do our web update in Jeff’s absence that day. But they didn’t need to know that. I figured it was better to leave them with some illusions as to the glamour of my position. Rather than bore them with the all-too school board meeting-laden reality.

That’s okay, the students’ chaperone (Jacque Roys, who originally hails from Oxford) told me, explaining that the kids had spent the time watching the fire trucks go by, and speculating about their destination.

Hmmm, I thought, fire trucks. As the students – who were all members of the Oriskany Falls summer rec program – began to pepper me with questions, I tucked that little tidbit away for later. We talked about “beats” and “bylines,” and lots of other newspaper-related topics in the remainder of our time together, which passed entirely too quickly for me to impart all of my pre-rehearsed words of wisdom with them. All too soon they were being ushered away by EOH’s unflappable and thoroughly wonderful executive director, Patti Lockwood-Blais.

As I hiked back to my car (my late arrival meant I had to park about a half a mile away), visions of those fire trucks danced in my head. Sure, I contemplated returning directly to the office, but it was short-lived. After climbing behind the wheel I headed, not back to 12B, but East in the direction I’d been told the fire crews had gone.

I didn’t have to go far before I encountered a member of Earlville’s fire police directing traffic away from Borden Road. I introduced myself, and after a few moments spent trying to raise the chief on the radio the kind gentleman waived me through with instructions to seek out Earlville Fire Chief Bob Tracy on the scene.

A mile or so up the road, I found the Chief and the Earlville squad, stationed in front of a soot-stained farm house, watching as other volunteer firefighters worked at removing the tin roof from the structure. Many had been there since shortly after 6:30 a.m., when the fire was first reported, and most were in sweaty t-shirts, with their fire gear pooled around their ankles.

In the skirt, blouse and wedge sandals I’d worn to address the kiddies, I felt more than a little overdressed.

Chief Tracy didn’t hold that against me though. In a matter of minutes, he updated me on the situation. The Madison County fire investigator had already visited the scene, he said, and determined it to be electrical in nature and linked to the brownout which had deprived the area of power for several hours the night before. While the front of the house appeared largely untouched by the flames, the interior was totaled, he explained.

“If you had your fire gear, I’d take you inside,” he added, with a pointed look at my footwear.

“I don’t have any fire gear,” I admitted, with an aw-shucks shrug of my shoulders. Ardently wishing for a moment that I did have such a thing stashed away in my trunk, for just such an occasion.

“We could lend you some,” he said, eyes smiling.

Not wanting to appear over-eager, I suppressed my desire to jump up and down with glee.

A few minutes later, I was sliding my feet into the size 12’s only recently vacated by Mike Doyle, the young Earlville firefighter who so generously volunteered his gear.

Of course, I did this only after ascertaining that he had no foot fungus I should be aware of. And tried hard to ignore the fact that they were still warm from their previous occupant.

While I was able to accomplish the boots on my own, I required assistance with getting the pants properly secured and donning the coat, say nothing of the helmet.

Once I was suited up, I allowed them a hearty laugh – and a photo for posterity’s sake – before heading inside with my two escorts: Captain John Fontaine and Jill King. One stayed ahead of me, the other behind, the entire time, making sure I didn’t take any false steps.

Even getting into the house was a challenge. The steps were wet and slippery with soot, and let me tell you, it was tough maneuvering in those size 12’s. There was also the weight of the pants, coat and helmet to contend with. Not to mention the heat. Thankfully, Friday was a bit cooler than the rest of the week. And I knew I was getting off easy, since I wasn’t also loaded up with all of the equipment these guys normally carry into a fire.

We entered into the kitchen, which even though virtually unscathed by the blaze itself, was still a scene of devastation. Soot was smeared across every surface, the walls smoke stained and water pooled on the floors. It was worse in the living room, which was directly below the room where the fire had started. Here, the water damage was more severe and part of the ceiling was gone.

Next we entered the narrow stairwell, and mounted even slipperier steps as we made our way to the second floor. The wall that greeted us was so black, I couldn’t tell what color it had been before the blaze. Hanging before it was a hunk of melted plastic John informed me was the smoke detector. Behind it, mounted to the wall, was another melted hunk, which looked to have one time been an iron.

As we exited the stairwell, we looked straight into what had once been a child’s room. As I stared at the blackened bunk beds, I said a silent prayer of thanks that the three kids who had lived in the house were away for the summer and far, far away that morning.

I said another prayer when we rounded the corner and the upstairs bedroom where the blaze had started came into view. Thank God they woke up in time to get out.

I’m sure I was chattering away nervously the entire time we were in the house, oohing and aahing as I felt I was expected to. But I was truly shaken by the experience. Seeing the true extent of the damage wrought by those flames was something I’m not sure I was prepared for.

When, after exiting the house and removing my borrowed gear, I met the two tenants who were asleep when the fire started, I was almost at a loss for words. Smelling of soot and having just seen the devastation they would face as they tried to salvage their home, my questions sounded flat and incomprehensible even to my own ears.

But I sucked it up, and did my job. Because it is telling stories such as theirs, and the responders on the scene, which make this job worthwhile for me.

My heart felt condolences go out to Jen Brown and Carrie Hartz for the devastating loss they suffered in Friday’s fire. May they find comfort in the fact that no one was harmed in that horrible blaze.

And I must, again, express my heartfelt gratitude to the Earlville Fire Department, not only for giving me the opportunity to walk in their shoes for a brief moment, but for all that they – and all those in the volunteer fire service do – to help area residents in their hour of need.

I spent some time in the Norwich Fire House this weekend, helping out during registration for the Gus Macker tournament. There is an inscription over the doorway leading to the bays where the fire trucks are stored, which I always pause to read.

It says: “Through these doors pass God’s greatest guardian angels.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Home Run Derby going the way of the dunk contest

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Patrick Newell

Is the home run derby heading the way of the NBA’s dunk contest? Most of the NBA’s biggest stars now bypass the dunk fest in favor of the “B listers.” Dwight Howard is the exception to that rule; however, LeBron James has never competed, Kobe Bryant stopped competing in the late ‘90s, and I don’t believe Dwayne Wade has ever competed either.
At Monday’s All-Star game Derby in Anaheim, the “B listers” rounded out a field that was predestined to go the way of a proven slugger. David Ortiz, one of the great power hitters of this generation – and with 335 career homers – won the contest with ease defeating the Florida Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez.
Defending champion, Prince Fielder, was not in the field, nor was 2008 champion Justin Morneau or previous champion Vladimir Guerrero. What we had was Chris Young, who has 86 homers and is coming off a 15-homer season; Ramirez, he of just one 30-homer season, along with Corey Hart (never had more than 24 in one season), Vernon Wells, Matt Holliday, Nick Swisher, and Miguel Cabrera. Aside from Ortiz, only Cabrera merits “slugger” consideration.
One could comprise an entire field of American Leaguers – who did not compete Monday – that would dwarf the credentials of yesterday’s field. How ‘bout Guerrero, Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Paul Konerko, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Pena, Mark Texeira, and Major League home run leader, Jose Bautista?
A list of National Leaguers on the sidelines for the event is nearly as impressive. Watching from the cheap seats were Albert Pujols, Fielder, Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Ryan Zimmerman among others.
It was nice to see “Big Papi” show that he still is a relevant power hitter, yet, the value of the home run derby will fall off more quickly than a Stephen Strasburg 12-to-6 curveball if the best sluggers would rather be a fan than a participant.

The Burger Police

Monday, July 5th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

The beef industry must love the Fourth of July.

I won’t even hazard a guess at how many steaks, burgers and (hot) dogs were slapped on grills this past weekend, as Americans from coast to coast celebrated the birth of our great nation the only way they know how: With a barbecue, of course.

Because, really, what says “Happy Independence Day” like a healthy assortment of grilled meat with a fireworks chaser?

For those who eschew the wonders of red-meat, please feel free to substitute the poultry or non-meat option of your choice. But me, I love a good burger, especially one cooked over an open flame.

In my family, there are burgers and there are my father’s burgers. Yes, they are a category unto themselves. And they are only for the most adventurous of eaters.

I should start by saying that my father is not a cook, nor does he have any desire to be one. He is more than happy to let someone else don the apron and slave away at the stove or grill.

There are but two exceptions to this rule. The first are his pancakes, which only the privileged get to enjoy. The second, his signature burgers.

What separates his version of the American classic from your basic burger?  Probably the fact that his recipe includes basically all of the major food groups. While most recipes include just a few seasonings, my father is inclined to include copious amounts of fresh chopped onion, half a loaf of white bread, and generous heapings of pepper, salt and enough garlic powder to keep even the most gregarious of vampires at bay.

There may be a few other seasonings in there, too, which he’s keeping to himself. But that’s not what makes my dad’s burgers truly unique. What does? Raisins.

Go ahead and take a moment to let that sink in, and for your gag reflex to subside.

Raisins have their place, don’t get me wrong. I consider them a wonderful addition to any lunch box, and particularly endearing perched on the top of a peanut butter laden celery stick in the classic after-school snack known as “ants on a log.” No Irish soda bread is complete without them and, even though I prefer chocolate chips, I am not averse to them in an oatmeal cookie.

But in a burger? I think not. Frankly, I believe it crosses all kinds of lines of acceptability, and would fully warrant a visit from the burger police, if such an agency did in fact exist.

My father didn’t always sully his burgers in this way. No, once his burgers were perfectly palatable. But that was before an ill-fated trip to his Uncle Louis planted the idea in his head.

Uncle Louis, husband to my grandmother’s sister Florence (a.k.a. Aunt Flo), was 100 percent Italian. And trust me, he was no culinary amateur. He made some of the best sauce I’ve ever tasted (even though he insisted on calling it gravy), and I’m pretty sure his pasta fagioli was the one that made Dean Martin’s stars drool in That’s Amore.

What he was thinking when he added raisins to a burger in my father’s presence I will never know. But my dad took it, and ran with it.

I’ll never forget the first time my father made what would become his signature dish. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time, and impressionable. I indulged his culinary whimsy and tried the burger as offered.

It wasn’t half bad, I’ll admit. But when I asked him what his secret ingredient was, his response spoiled them for me forever.

“Are they raisins?” My adolescent self queried.

“No,” he replied. “They’re dead flies.”

Needless to say, it was the last of his special burgers to ever touch my lips.

He, however, makes them any chance he gets. And my mother eats them, too. I suspect she’s just humoring him in some vain hope that he’ll take a greater interest in cooking and thus relieve her of kitchen duty at least occasionally.

This, alas, has not been the case. Not that he doesn’t experiment in the kitchen, on occasion. These experiments, however, are limited strictly to new burger creations. You see, the raisins were kind of a “gateway” ingredient for him. He has since blasphemed burgers cranberries, apple pieces and who knows what else. I, for one, try not to pay attention.

I think of it as plausible deniability in case those burger police ever do show up.

When he heads to the kitchen to prep his now-infamous burgers, I make sure to specify that I want mine plain. And well done.

I try to ignore the eye roll.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

The Ashton family’s Fourth of July

Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Brian Golden

While the Fourth of July is a day for all Americans to celebrate the founding of our country it has always held a special significance for me. Every year, rain or shine, my mother, stepfather and I travel to Sherburne to spend some quality time with our extended family at my uncle Steve’s house, a chance to catch up with loved ones we haven’t seen since the previous year, devour some tasty barbecue, maybe play some poker and in general just enjoy the national holiday with our relatives.

The last few years, however, have been even more special, if somewhat surreal to me, as all of us “kids” have now grown up and many of my cousins have started families of their own. I say surreal because it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was one of the youngest of the group being herded down to the Sherburne pool for a refreshing swim in the blessed (yet sometimes brutal) Independence Day heat.

You see, being an only child, my cousins were, to me, kind of like the brothers and sisters I never had growing up. I’ve always reveled in our Fourth of July family gathering for just that reason. Now that I’ve grown older I look back and reflect on all the fun we had, whether swimming, throwing Frisbee or playing ball (more on that later). I guess I’m simply overwhelmed these days by the fact that there are now three generations of the Ashton family present at our yearly gathering, and I’ll admit this makes me feel a bit sentimental.

My mother grew up here in Chenango County with seven brothers and two sisters, Mark (her twin), Penny, Steve, Bruce, Greg, Rick, Brenda, David and Boyd, who combined, produced fifteen children, my cousins Eric, Jessica, Shane, Erin, Colin, Matthew, Amy, Jared, Michael, Megan, Jeff, Melissa, Heather, Shawn and Piper. In my mind, the sixteen of us formed our own peculiar family unit, and I have specific memories which I associate with each and every one of them.

One Fourth of July memory that sticks out in particular would have to be the annual baseball game we used to hold, which pitted the “over-30” members of the family versus the “under-30 crew.” We haven’t held a game in years (I hope this changes as my cousins’ children “come of age”), yet I’ll never forget the enthusiasm with which it was always approached. What can I say, we were, and still are, an extremely competitive bunch (beware if a deck of cards come out for a game of Hearts).

All in all I’d say we’re a classic example of the extended American Family and yet (I’m sure this is the case with all families) we’re unique in both our abilities and our achievements. We are teachers and moms, mechanics, dads, businessmen, brothers and sisters, laborers, future directors, cousins, athletes, aunts and uncles and yes, even newspaper reporters. We are supportive of each other in the tough times, we laugh together, play together and congratulate each other for our successes. I’m not sure that I ever truly appreciated just how important we are to each other.

We are family, and that’s something worth celebrating.