Ashley, age 12

I have been writing murder trial stories in each paper since Sept. 2, I believe. I’ve also been doing my regular duties of building the pages for the following day’s paper, trying to update “30 seconds” as much as possible, and respond to emails as efficiently as time permits. Also, my cat has been MIA for more than two weeks now.
Regardless of all that, I decided today would be an appropriate day to blog.
What follows is what I remember from this day, at age 12.
I’m in the second to last seat in the second row closer to the door near the exit of Mrs. Meek’s math class. It’s business as usual. She’s writing notes on the projector, and I’m writing them down. With math, I was rather good at memorizing for the test and then letting it leave my mind. One look over my notes the morning before a test and I was golden. Did I learn anything in that class that day? Probably not.
Next up was Mr. Emerson’s English class. We were watching a movie that was based on a book we had just finished reading. Can’t recall what it was. Of Mice and Men pops into my head, but I can’t be sure. Just before that class was over — which was my class right before lunch — the teacher’s phone rang. After hanging up and just as the bell was ringing, he had told us all that the Twin Towers had fallen down. I remember someone asking, “The Tri Towers?!” and he clarified the location was New York City. We left class and went to lunch.
A boy in the lunch line was yelling that we were going to be bombed next. Some folks in line cried.
I remember wanting to know what was going on. I overheard employees of the school talking about making sure no TVs were on. I was 12, the last thing I wanted was to be shielded from “reality.”
Then after lunch I finally made it to Mr. Telesky’s social studies class. You know what he did? He turned on the TV, and said, “Watch. And ask away.”
He explained some things and people asked questions. He told us that what happened that morning —while I was taking notes in a math class that I’ll never remember — would never be forgotten. That it’d be in history books when we became adults.
I remember going home from school and watching it on TV with my sister. Then my mother came home from work and we watched together. I remember asking if the smoke would make it all the way to Norwich.
I don’t recall if it was that same day or perhaps in the days following, but I remember expressing that I didn’t think any people who haven’t done anything wrong should die. I still believe that.
So many people have lost their lives as a result of the events of that day. It makes my heart heavy.
Today I realize that a five-year-old boy on Sept. 11, 2001 is now old enough to fight and die in wars that began as a result of what took place that morning.
I wonder if that boy remembers where he was. I have memories of going to Disney World at the age of five, so I really wonder what a small child thinks of the events from 9/11/01, if s/he remembers.
Anyway, back to Ashley, age 25.
To anyone who lost a family member or friend on Sept. 11, 2001, I am sorry. To anyone who has lost a loved one in combat in a war the United States is involved in, I am sorry. To anyone innocent who has been killed, I am sorry. To the family members of veterans who have taken their own lives after returning from combat, my thoughts are with you.
My heart is just all-around heavy today.

A Verge

The cool-air days of Autumn are slowly beginning to weave their way into the forecast as the long, hot days of summer become indelibly out numbered. This is this time of year when throughout my life I find myself in concious awe of the speed of life have looked back upon the summer that was in reflection.
Fall is definitely my favorite season. The fruits of our labor are easily measured, the kids are returning to school and with any luck; the earth’s bounty is full and ripe for harvest in a short time to come.
But not yet.
The day that it all really starts to sink in is always the same for me – and it’s rapidly approaching. For me, the day after the Chenango Blues Fest wraps up is that threshold; the end of yet another summer.
Over the past 22 years, we as a community have been blessed with a special little thing that many of us hold dear and close to our hearts. We know somewhere deep inside that with the exit stage left of the final act, life will assuredly return to “normal.”
I know that I’m not the only one. I once thought that I was the only one who felt that way, but as I’ve grown older and talked to others who’ve waxed nostalgic about out beloved hometown hoedown, it becomes clear that many of my friends and friends that have become family share the same sentiment.
I remember going to my first Blues fest in 1995 when the festival was all of three years of age, I was barely 14.
At the time I had no idea who Lucky Peterson and Kenny Neal were, but once exposed to their brand of blues – Especially Neals ridiculously smooth telecaster work – I was on the hook.
That show enlightened me to an entire genre of music and culture I’d never heard.
I remember a short time later having the opportunity to see B.B. King very up close at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY as part of a school trip – planned very last minute. I sat with life long buddy James Brady on the bus ride up. I remember the two of us thinking aloud “We’re in the same room with a Legend” as we ogled over his signature story-laden adventures put to sweet, sweet guitar riffs once at the show.
I was nearly booted out for taking photographs at the no-flash show. Those were the days.
For me, that’s the magical power that music possesses. For whatever reason, – especially in the Fall – I’m able to be transported back 10, 15 or 20 years to a precise moment; and what more is life than a series of intertwined moments?

Summer’s still here for the time being. Lets get out there and make some moments this weekend.

A little farewell

Every once in a while we’re blessed with the opportunity to meet someone destined for bigger and brighter things. Usually, you’re instantly aware that these people are special and are meant for making forward progress, not to linger. If you are fortunate enough, you might end up sharing a desk and working next to them for a period, and have the joy of getting to know their intricate and kind personalty. This is one of the few genuine joys of the human condition.
My short-time co-worker and now friend Samantha Gillette is one of those few people.
What Sam lacked in experience only due to her age she possessed tenfold in her unequivocal tenacity to learn, work ethic and love of the profession that is taking her to grad school.
I learned from Sam that the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket after all. She proved that there is indeed hope for the generations that follow behind us, and her indiscriminate objectivity is most likely her most powerful merit.
Amid our often vivacious morning staff meetings, on more than one occasion we (those of us hardened by life’s lessons) jokingly referred to the novelty Sam’s ambition by mouthing “Her spirit hasn’t been broken yet;” but that statement obviously doesn’t apply. I don’t believe that Sam’s sprit can ever be truly broken; she is as strong as she is sincere – requisites most professional writers hone over leather in time, essentials she has already mastered.
Sam is an adept writer and will, without a doubt, make an excellent journalist.
I’m certain that everyone here in the office that had the chance to read and write along side Sam will remember the good times and challenging days we spent over our little publication when we come across her name in the byline of one of the “big ones” or in the international news.
Congratulations on your advancement. Keep doing good things. Keep in touch.

Moments of impact

There are moments that one forgets a second later, moments that evoke a smile or crease the brow in frustration, moments that alter one’s mood throughout the week before they flit away into the foggy realm of forgetting. Moments that define a relationship, turning someone from stranger to friend or lover to enemy. But once in a while there are moments that change everything.

These moments must be the big milestones, right? The universal ones like birth, death, graduation, a proposal, marriage, divorce, sickness. These are milestones that unite everyone in a shared experience.

While these are powerful occurrences, the small moments leading up and surrounding them can be even more important, even more memorable.

What made him kiss her the first time? How many casual conversations did they have before they shared their deepest, darkest secret?

What led up to that fight? What made him remember that moment with his son more than all the others? What last words did she say that made it impossible to forgive her?

Such moments can result in incredible enlightenment. Incredible pain. Incredible happiness. Or a once in a lifetime connection.

It’s true that humans are fallible. Horrendously so. Sometimes these moments can be so painful that one hopes to get high on alcohol, drugs, sex, risky behavior. Anything to escape.

But sometimes there are those moments that are unbelievably perfect, better than a scripted Hollywood scene with all of the lighting and background sound.

These are the moments – good and bad – that change people forever. Careers, partnerships, having or not having children, forgiveness, anger, being overcome by a situation or choosing to move past it. All of these occurrences can be broken into moment(s). And this has been the case since the beginning of the first human experience.

What is frightening is that people’s ability to experience these moments is changing. Television, technology, social media, the immediacy of the internet – all of these factors have benefitted society. But there is also a cost. People are less connected to the here and now. Or if they are present, they are less able to communicate effectively. We, as a culture, have become increasingly adept at participating in a moment without fully experiencing or connecting to it.

It seems we are in a world where nothing is shocking. People are desensitized to the point that they are no longer as caring towards each other. We are in danger of becoming automatons in a world that could not care less… as long as the right price tag is attached.

Said Henry David Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

Instead of tuning out, one needs to relearn how to experience. Feel the happiness, the pain, the grief, the hilarity. Whatever it is. Experience it. It may be difficult to claim every moment, but it’s far better to be an agent in one’s own life than to be a passive viewer.

Thank goodness for meaningless distractions

Anyone who’s been watching the news lately knows the world’s on edge. Frankly, I’m starting to lose track of who’s at war with who. In Iraq, ISIS continues to battle Iraqi forces. There’s no end in sight to the civil war in Syria. Then, of course, there are the growing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine; and violence between Hamas and the Israeli government in the Middle East. I’ll point out that this list is exclusive to global conflicts currently in the mainstream media and doesn’t include the dozens of other countries going toe to toe in other parts of the world.

With so much happening at once, it’s no wonder many people aren’t sure where to stand when it comes to international issues. Which brings me to the pressing question that’s on everyone’s mind: Was Jamie Dornan the right choice for the lead in “50 Shades of Grey?”

Thank goodness for meaningless distractions.

Locally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the continuing negotiations between the county and the CSEA labor union. For those who don’t know, many county employees have gone without a contract since their last contract expired in December. The workers’ union voted down a proposed deal earlier this month and it’s likely to vote again as soon as possible.

True, I think it’s unfair that county employees are working without a labor deal. Even public employees deserve a few more bread crumbs thrown their way once in a while. But what I detest is pay raises for all county employees across the board. Maybe it’s the private sector employee in me saying this, but shouldn’t raises be determined on individual performance, not by union affiliation? If the employee who darts pencils in the ceiling above his cubicle gets a raise, what’s it say for the one who goes in early and stays late?

I also think the demand for work is something to consider (speaking to the ’30 Seconds’ crowd). I don’t doubt the work load born by most governmental departments has grown significantly in recent years, thanks largely to attrition in most cases. At the same time, I’m skeptical that the amount of work has steadily and evenly increased in each department. So again, I personally can’t justify the same percent pay increase for all employees.

Admittedly, my understanding of negotiations between CSEA (or any labor union) and the county is pretty narrow, especially since most discussions happen behind the closed doors of executive session. But that’s the beauty of employee confidentiality, I guess. And because there are two strongly opinionated sides in this fight, I know there’s a lot to consider.

At the state level, it’s worth mentioning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest debacle. As some might remember, Cuomo ran is campaign on a promise to clean up Albany in 2010. Since then, he created an ethics committee to investigate corruption among state legislators. This week, it was revealed that the committee he had created couldn’t investigate Cuomo or certain organizations to which he had ties. Cuomo disbanded the commission before it went any further.

I liken this scenario to someone being run over by their own car…

Reviving an old golf column

This week we are reviving an old column, one in which I play golf at a local or regional course – along side a willing partner – and submit a review of the course, while also sharing any humorous happenings during our excursion. For years, I teamed up with the late Bob McNitt, who had a lifetime of golf experiences, and stories to share from just about every course we played. Bob was a consummate raconteur who always provided plenty of fuel for the story. This year, one of my buddies and golf partners, Mike McCormack, has agreed to step in and offer his insights from our day on the links. Mike is not a native of Chenango County, but he is no less entertaining than Bob. Since I just recently returned to the newspaper and fall sports are just around the corner, we will likely have about three or four golf columns this year before resuming the feature full-time next year. Our first stop: Afton Golf Course.

Anyone enjoy trivia? I sure do, especially of the sports variety. As a matter of fact – and my wife Aida will attest – I store hundreds of seemingly pointless and meaningless tidbits of sports information that are just waiting to one day surface. I’m sure there are plenty of other people just as interested in sports factoids, and thrice weekly, I will supplement the sports section with a trivia question. Yes, the answer is easily found with a quick Internet search, but the idea is to test one’s sports knowledge. I will delve into all sports topics, and provide the answer on an inside sports page. The goal is to publish trivia questions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week (assuming we have enough space). If I receive positive feedback through the first month, I’ll continue the feature throughout the year.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Food plus Patrick Swayze = girls’ night in

Having money to spend and going somewhere opulent to spend it definitely has an appeal. Yet, often I’ve found that being creative and spending less money in the pursuit of fun can be much more rewarding. That’s what happened this weekend.

My friend Mary Rose and I wanted to meet up in Syracuse, where she resides. At first we discussed meeting at a restaurant. Normally I would love to join her for a nice dinner and a glass of wine with all of the appropriate ambiance. But together we have very expensive tastes, which I unfortunately can’t afford.

So, after relaying my concern about the cost she suggested we have a girls’ night in at her place.
That was by far the best decision.

We gorged ourselves on a variety of homemade, fabulous food and drinks. There were two different types of cheeses to go with the baguette I brought – one of which Mary Rose had me try with fig jam. It was a great blend of sour and sweet and the flavors melded beautifully.

I had also brought raspberries, pineapple and sliced tomato to serve as an appetizer with the bread and cheese. Mary Rose had made a fresh zucchini salad, which was a new experience for me. She had sliced the zucchini paper-thin and length-wise. She tossed the vegetables with a homemade vinaigrette, prosciutto and parmesan cheese.

“If this isn’t good, I’m going to be mad!” she laughingly said. She had found the recipe in a magazine earlier that day and was eager to try it. Mary Rose had no reason to be upset – the salad was refreshing and as vibrant on the tongue as it was on the eyes. I couldn’t help but go back for seconds.

To go with the salad she had made roasted chicken breasts and thighs that were nicely seasoned and reminded me of the barbecue chicken that the fire department always makes during the summer.

In keeping with the freshness and lightness of the meal, she also made fresh blueberry lemonade mixed with top shelf vodka.

By the end of the meal I was content and felt altogether spoiled. What made it even better was watching the movie “Dirty Dancing,” (1987) starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Mary Rose had never seen it before and seemed to really enjoy it.

I wasn’t surprised that she was a fan. Who doesn’t love a leather wearing, tough guy who is also an expert, elegant dancer? She didn’t understand the Swayze obsession… until she did.

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” may not be the most significant line in the late 80′s, but it was certainly the best way to end a great girls’ night in.

A Generation of “Stuff”

BY MATTHEW WHITE

Evesun Staff Writer

I was a humble child – not because my Dad wanted me to be and certainly not because I wanted to be – because I grew up in the eighties.
In the eighties, technology was indispensable and expensive. Not the Vain, “I must have the next generation of iPhone TODAY!” expensive; just in general due to their proximity to innovation, something we egregiously take for granted today.
There was no such thing as “disposable” in the household that I grew up in. My grandmother would use paper towels then drape them over the dish rack to dry them like some folks do with cotton terrycloth hand towels. Likewise, zip-lock bags were rinsed out and left to dry for re-use, and plastic silverware was washed and put back into the box for the next gathering; a custom which I never really understood – why not just use silverware?
The children of today – including my own gaggle – live in a disposable, plastic world. They’ve grown up knowing nothing different. To them, there is no real value in these gadgets much more than two weeks after they get it, even if after pining for weeks or months – only to be distracted by the next best thing that comes along. Now, it seems we adults are no different. We ogle over glossy black gadgets that allegedly make out lives simpler, if not better.
I assume that the clever ways of the marketing think tanks made it impossible for us to pin-point exactly then this trend started, a kind of absurd “Jedi mind trick” we “consumers” are all under the influence of, so that we’re unable to recall waaay back when things that  lasted more than a year was “a thing.”
I applaud folks who possess the powers of “tech abstention.” Those who have the ability to bypass the system of cyclical obsolescence. My buddy Shawn Magrath is one such super-human. He has managed to find a way to wade through the swampy jungles of the smart phone marketers, ad campaigns and enticing offers.
Shawn has a squeaky old flip-phone (gasp!) that he has been toting around for roughly the past five years, which is pretty amazing considering that it itself is made of cross-linked Chinese polymer and screws no doubt made from recycled sardine cans.
So, I envy Shawn; he’s younger than I and has never used a so-called “smart phone” – yet, Shawn has a masters degree in Educational Technology. He must know something the rest of us do not. Go figure.
Personally, I’m saddened that society has chosen the path of instant gratification and pacification over being able to cherish and hold onto things. We’ve become so addicted to life in the fast lane that we need everything instantly, even if it means we don’t physically own anything in the end.
An example of analog life trumping the digital daze  is obvious when my children marvel over our family photo albums. There was a time in my life when I would take a dozen rolls of film to the drug store for developing. And I was forced to wait. Looking back, the wait made the experience that much more pleasurable… even if the pictures were horribly composed; the experience was almost as rewarding simply because I had four or five decent prints (or 10 if I checked the “doubles” box) out of the 24 frames I shot. I could tack them to a wall or tape them to the inside of my locker: or manage to save a few and place them in a proper photo album in my mid-twenties from my kids to flip through ten years later.

Twenty years ago, when I was a barely a teenager, a quality camera was costly – something you cherished, almost having magical properties. Moreover, a phone was a phone. It was a box that was tethered to a wall that you had to stand next to in order to use it. Call waiting, party lines and answering “machines” we’re all innovations that we were so glad that we had, and thought would be around forever. Those days are long gone, and I know that I’m romanticizing clunky tech a bit, but didn’t we have more of a life back then?

Nowadays, I take a picture with my phone and send it to Facebook so that I can reference it in the future on an electrified screen on a whim. You call it convenient, I call it the cheap equivalent.
I’m no hero, I’ve been duped into the same manner of thinking, just as you have. My purchase of the ever-popular Keurig coffee machine about two years ago is evidence. I persuaded myself into it – 70 percent because the box said it was a time-saver, 30 percent because I thought it was a legitimately good idea. I mean, why brew a whole pot?… in this heat?
It took me a year to become completely disgusted with the idea of throwing a plastic k-cup (or two, in my case – I like strong coffee) in the trash for one single cup of coffee. Not to it mention it tastes like dirty water. Have you ever tried filling a thermos with coffee from a Keurig? – if there’s close second for Einstein’s definition of insanity, picture that and then cast your vote.

I went back to the trusty, seasoned Bunn, which makes 12 cups – or one thermos plus a cup for the road –  in three minutes without fail.
I used to believe that I wanted all the coolest and fanciest things as an adult because I didn’t have many of those things growing up – but the more I think about it, the less I agree with that sentiment.
Midway through my life, I’m beginning to understand that less is more and the most beautiful things are drenched in simplicity.
Now onto the real struggle – convincing my kids (who know no other way) to appreciate this discovery.
Wish me luck.

Sweet memories of maple syrup: a family legacy

There are many people in the world who grow up never knowing their father, or never understand what he does and who he is. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family where my dad was not only present, but where I was able to participate in his business.

He produces maple syrup and has been doing so since his grandfather taught him the craft as a young child. There is a small, run down sugar shack behind the Methodist Church in Poolville that my dad built as a teenager for his first large scale production. The sugar house behind my house is much bigger than this first sugar shack but the memories are just as dear.

My experience growing up involved going to the woods with my dad and siblings to tap trees, collect sap and do small tasks in the sugar house while he boiled. I remember tasting the sap – clear and slightly sweet with only a small percentage of sugar content. In contrast, the syrup has a golden amber color that mirrors its sweet, deep flavor. Many of my favorite memories revolve around the neighbors, friends and families that would come visit and help during sugar season. There would be laughter, comradery, teasing and sometimes complaining as everyone worked together in the intense, lengthy process that is maple syrup production.

Often we would celebrate the beginning of the season with pancakes, usually in the afternoon after many hours of work. My mom would make pancakes, eggs and sausage for the all of the people who were in the sugar house. I would eat until I couldn’t eat any more and then, as stealthily as I could, run my finger over my plate so I could taste every last drop of the syrup.

People who buy maple syrup in the store or use artificial syrup (yes, I’m judging you) may not know how much effort goes into producing one gallon of syrup. It take approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That adds up quickly as my dad needs to make enough product for his retail and wholesale clients each year.

Despite the hard work, maple syrup production is something that my dad loves and will never give up. It represents a legacy, tradition and regional heritage that he is proud of. First begun by Native Americans who lived in the region, maple syrup production is one of the few industries that manages to be innovative but stays true to an unchanging, age-old process. It is a lifelong endeavor for my dad, and will always be a part of his identity. I feel so lucky that he has been able to share it with me and my siblings.

Gillette’s Maple Products is located at 125 County Road 20, Sherburne. Call 674-4026 for more details or to place an order.

Where have I been the last four months?

According to our website, March 4, 2014 was the last time I posted a blog. In case you were off the grid the past few months, I left the newspaper for New Mexico, and recently returned after a 3 1/2-month absence. I wrote back-to-back columns over the past two weeks detailing my time away from the paper, although I steered clear of the specific details of my return.
I won’t delve too deep into my decision to return to New York, but let’s just say finding a job in the newspaper business in 2014 is an extremely difficult task. Those who already have a steady job in the media hold on to said position until retirement or death – whatever comes first.
With the impending departure of Shaun Savarese, the sports editor during my hiatus, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to once again step back into my old role. Thank you Shaun for your time covering Chenango County sports, and I wish you well in your next endeavor.
To the Chenango County readers, it is truly a blessing for me to chronicle the achievements of local athletes. I’ve said it many times and I’ll write it again: Yes, this is a job, but it never feels like work.

Two of the biggest summer events that I have covered the past 19 years are right around the corner. This weekend, hoops will dominate the center of Norwich with the return of Gus Macker. It seems so long ago when then-Norwich mayor, Joe Biviano, sought out ideas to spice up Norwich’s summers. I can’t remember anything else Joe did while in office other than rubber-stamping Gus Macker, but this tournament has proven a smashing success for nearly two decades, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The second big event, and this applies to my personal affinity for golf, is the annual Canasawacta Country Club Men’s Member-Guest tournament. I have covered several local tournament, but this one is the biggest, draws the best overall competition, and oozes camaraderie, family, and fellowship. As a lifelong golfer, It really doesn’t get much better.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

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