Life’s a garden… Dig it.

This year had been filled with firsts for me. A new home in a new in a new town in a fresh year capable of being filled with positive moves in right direction is shaping up to be nothing less than just that. I’m feeling productive at both home and work, and overall satisfied with where I’m at in life, and I’ve found yet another love… the backyard garden.
My childhood memories are punctuated with working summers along side my father in the backyard garden. For years I thought my dad plowed and tilled our plot primarily out of necessity, and I suppose for the most part that essentially was the case. We didn’t have a lot of money, for all his hard work and dedication – we were never “rich” with possessions or money; I inherited much more than that.
At the time I had mixed feelings about the garden; and the work the it – and my dad – demanded.
And it was just that. Hard work, period. There isn’t a pair of Elton John style rose-colored glasses on earth that can make me look back longingly at the blisters, sweat and thirst that came endlessly from the garden emblazoned with a day’s noon sun.
We composted our kitchen waste and grass clippings every year. I never questioned it, as it just what I was expected to do as one of my many chores. We never had a fancy riding mower, just an old Briggs and Stratton push-job with a bagger that had to emptied every three swipes of the lawn’s length. Of course, the compost heap was atop the hill behind the garden, so I would fill the wheelbarrow with clippings and cart it when it was super-full.
Every other day – or everyday when the temperature was relatively high – it was my job to take the kitchen waste out to the heap. On the weekend, it would then be my chore to “turn” the pile with a pitch fork to aid in the decomposition and keep it from catching fire. Anyone who knows how hot a compost pile can get in the summer heat understands the danger.
Picking rock while we prepared the soil for the plants and seeds was especially monotonous work. My hands cracked from the desiccative nature of dirt; my dads hands felt like rough tree bark, so it didn’t bother him… at least, I never heard him complain about it.
Now, as an adult who’s been through his fair share of life, I’m tending to my own garden for the first time on my own since the days in the backyard of my childhood along side my sister, step mom and father.
I find it astounding how much information the human brain is willing to store without coercion. There was never any studying or tests – no quizzing or memorization of the things my father taught me as the fourth grader who needed guidance on the do’s and don’ts of gardening; amongst other things.
I suppose that I did what I was told regardless of how I felt about it because I knew there would be repercussions if I chose not to. More than that – I did it because I wanted to work alongside my dad, and I respected him. The magic of a garden harvest is something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and now I’m convinced that was something that he knew all along. I worked shoulder to shoulder with my old man, who was raised on our family farm and was taught those very skills by his father, whose father had taught him and so on.
This past weekend I spend the majority of my time in the garden with my own boys. While at times the frustration of them trampling about the sowed seeds was overwhelming, I kept it together and at least pg-13 –  because I saw something that reminded me of a younger, pure and inquisitive version of myself in them. They wanted to be in the garden, shoulder to shoulder helping their dad… getting dirty and feeling productive.
A look back on the hours I spent explaining what they could and could not do, and what had to be accomplished versus what they wanted to do – that it’s “called work because it’s not play, not because it can’t be fun” (a concept that will most likely take them a child or two of their own to fully grasp) – and I feel good.
They picked rocks, learned the in’s and out’s of the pick axe and how to hoe a row  and plant seeds into the rich earth with their old man, just as I had.
My Dad – my best friend – died when I was all of 19 years of age and so sure of everything some 14 years ago. I feel blessed to have been afforded those 19 short years with him, learning the skills he had to offer from my grandfather, great-grandfather – ancestors.
No doubt, my boys will carry on those same practices with the name and hopefully one day reflect on summer days digging in the garden.

The real Philomena Lee

The film “Philomena” is a beautiful, heart wrenching portrayal of a mother’s search for her long-lost son 50 years after he is taken from her. It focuses on the real life story of Irishwoman Philomena Lee, who as a teenager, was sent to a convent after she became pregnant out of wedlock. Throughout the film there is a focus on Catholicism and sin – Philomena is sent to the covenant in the first place because her family is shamed by her. At one point in the film the young Philomena explains that it is as if she had died, rather than gotten pregnant.

Philomena is forced to work long, hard hours at the abbey to pay off the debt to the nuns for providing shelter for her and her son. The sense of guilt and sin permeates the whole film and is what keeps Philomena silent for 50 years after her son is stolen from her and taken to America by adoptive parents. What is most tragic is that Philomena never wanted to lose her son, which is why she finally asks for assistance from journalist Martin Sixsmith.

Judi Dench does a fantastic job portraying the older Philomena Lee and her co-star is Steve Coogan, who plays the cynical Martin Sixsmith. The film highlights the very real problem of young Irish women losing their children because of manipulative, profiteering convents in mid-1900′s Ireland.
Explains a Washington Post article, “The mothers did get to see their children every day, but they didn’t always fully realize that those children were offered for adoption, as orphans, to American couples.”

In an interview, Philomena explained that the convent always refused to disclose information about her son – nuns even blatantly lied to her. She explained that if they had been truthful there probably would never have been a book or movie.

While truth may have made her search easier, many are thankful that Philomena’s story came out. It has raised awareness about the sometimes harrowing circumstances surrounding adoption, especially in Ireland in the mid 1900’s. Numerous adoptees have also reached out to her in hopes she can help guide them to their birth mothers.

A New York Times review states, “Philomena has many facets. It is a comedic road movie, a detective story, an infuriated anticlerical screed, and an inquiry into faith and the limitations of reason, all rolled together. Fairly sophisticated about spiritual matters, it takes pains to distinguish faith from institutionalized piety.”

I love campaign season

It’s not surprising that political candidates choose to go negative with their campaign. After all, it’s easier to vilify someone than it is to become a saint. Even more enticing is the evidence that negative campaigning actually works, which I think shows a lot about our largely pessimistic attitudes toward anything and everything in between. So I can’t say I was surprised to get a campaign postcard at my home address this week that simply said, “Vote ‘No’ on Claudia Tenney.”

I don’t need to point out the obvious difference between voting for someone and voting against another. Given its negative message, it’s no more or less surprising that this postcard was colored in black, white and red, decorated in broken text, and printed on a discrete 12×9 piece of poster board. I’m sure if it had the ability to play haunting music, it would have. It couldn’t have been more threatening if it were on fire.

I love campaign season.

On the cheerier note, I use to make it a habit to read the classifieds of the newspaper. I’m always fascinated with the wordsmithing some people fabricate to sell what would otherwise be considered junk. My personal favorite: “Car for sale Runs great. No engine.” Other award winners include a used mattress with “few urine stains,” a chevy pickup with “optional movement” and this week, a toilet bowl that is “like new.” I’m not a salesman, but it seems like a toilet is one of those things that’s either new or it’s not. There’s no gray area.

On the topic of classifieds, we at The Evening Sun owe and apology to a ’30 Seconds’ poster and anyone else who saw a help wanted ad for a part-time shipping and receiving person. The ad specifies that applicants be able to lift 50 pounds, but fails to provide an address or contact information. To clarify, anyone interested in the job should get ahold of…

Irrigation of life’s deserts

A discussion with a former English teacher raised some ideas about the importance of education, history and literature. Yes, STEM courses are becoming even more vital as technology and innovation entrench themselves in the economy and leading industries. But to forget the humanities or to dismiss them as frivolous is dangerous and careless.

While my perspective is completely biased – I have been a nerdy English student since I first learned to read – there are many who would agree with me.

The study of history, languages, art, literature and the like are important in that they provide a perspective and context to the present. Who are we? Where do we come from? How are we connected? These are all questions that can be answered by studying the humanities.

Many argue that without the study of the humanities there would only be cold, hard logic. Is this knowledge useful? Of course.

Yet, without the humanities there would be no soul to the head and body of education. Instead students would learn how to compute numbers, study biology, analyze markets, etc. without balancing this knowledge with connections to the larger world.

Mark Slouka, an American novelist and essayist argues:
“The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their ‘product’ not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their ‘success’ something very much like Frost’s momentary stay against confusion.”

As every school is in a mad scramble to hire more STEM teachers, it is imperative that humanities teachers are not forgotten. While every student may not love to read Shakespeare or may not understand the importance of studying the Napoleonic Wars, they should still have a background upon which to build their understanding of the world at large.

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis.

Love food, will travel

Some of my favorite parts of the day are lunch and dinner. What I love more than eating at home is when I travel and experience different food. Whether it’s take out, a fancy restaurant or street food – all of it is amazing. Food is by far the best way to experience a place, different cultures and to have a shared experience with friends. Here are some of my top favorites in the US and abroad:

- Pasta – Lupa Osteria Romana, NYC. This restaurant is owned by Mario Batali and the pasta was far beyond anything my mother or Italian cousin could ever come close to. Everything was incredibly fresh, the pasta had a texture and flavor that redefined my understanding of what pasta means. And the limoncello was wonderfully tart and lemony, as it was made fresh that day. Just make sure you come with someone who is financially conscious – without guidance I would have spent more $$$ than was wise (so easy to do). http://www.luparestaurant.com/dinner.cfm

- Brownies – made at home, are sometimes the best. They’re so good, you’d believe they were hand delivered by the Chocolate Gods: http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/01/best-cocoa-brownies/

- Street Food – Trinidad & Tobago. Though the Caribbean is hailed more often for its resorts than its cuisine, don’t let that fool you. Flavors are out of this world and the price at around $5 US can’t be beat. Personally, I would suggest grabbing a gyro on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain, chicken and fries at Smokey & Bunty’s or bake ‘n shark at Maracas Bay.

- Waffles – London. If you’re in the UK and happen to see a waffle truck called Waffles de Liege follow your nose and buy one. With or without toppings they are the best waffles I’ve ever had.

- Rice Cakes – Chinatown, NYC. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where I had this dish but it was the best Chinese I’ve ever had, and once again, at a great price ($5).

- Wine – some of the best wine I’ve ever had was at a little restaurant in Wales. It was a German white wine and I fell in love. For those hoping to discover another great white wine I’d suggest looking at this article, which overviews Sancerre (a sauvignon blanc). http://nyti.ms/1hsNHCE

If you knew me, you would know my Father

I was born on Long Island in Huntington, NY on May 6, 1985. My Father was a 22-year-old roofer and my Mother was a 19-year-old nursing assistant. They were young, free-spirits, born during an era of expression and united by love.

Over time, with the tribulations of parenthood and adulthood, their love for one another was tested. Personal battles with personal issues and inter-relationship differences drove a wedge between them.

I have fleeting memories of my early childhood. However meager or morose our situation was at times, I could always feel their mutual love for me.

No matter their differences or collective economic struggles, I always felt comforted and provided for.

There was always food on the table and no matter the budget, Christmas and my birthdays were made very special by my parents.

We relocated, disjointed, in 1989 to be closer to my maternal Grandparents in upstate New York. My Father, the hardest worker I know, remained on Long Island for a period of time to continue to earn money as a roofer and support his young family.

He made frequent trips upstate, by any means necessary, to be by my side.

After time, we were all together again but the relationship between the people I love the most was strained and the time came when they went their separate ways.

I have spent years in anguish over that moment. The disbandment of the bond that brought me to life. The separation of my family.

Early in life I wanted nothing more than for my family to be reunited again, in harmony and love.

The happy memories I held onto during my adolescence were hard to hold onto, I have very few now.

As my Mother and I braved the world together, without my Father, I felt a void inside.

I needed the laughter, the jokes, the smiles and the hugs. The all-encompassing joy that is my Dad.

For reasons better known by my family, being with my Father wasn’t one of the options.

We saw each other occasionally over the years and on holidays and I missed him very much.

Writing this, and thinking back to the years I spent longing for a closer relationship with my Dad makes me angry.

I’m partially mad at him, but I’m primarily upset with myself.

He did his best. He moved within ear shot of my childhood home, where my Mother, brother and Step-Father lived, and he always supported me financially.

He started a family of his own, giving me a wonderful little sister to worry about and love unconditionally.

I never wanted for much in my youth. I had the nice clothes, the trendy shoes, the newest video games; but now as I grow older and mature I understand the importance of development and growth and I would gladly exchange any of it for those memories of a complete family unit.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I had a great childhood that I would never trade away. I love that I have a younger brother whom I taught sports to and grew up with. I thank my Step-Father for giving me that bond with my brother, one that I will never relinquish.

I just want more memories with my Dad.

Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown closer to my Father. We spend as much time together as our work schedules allow.

He is the funniest person I know, he can always make me laugh.

His brand of common sense and wisdom is my favorite. A no nonsense air of intelligence earned through hard work and commitment to his craft. He has taken the past two decades and turned himself from a roofer into an expert mill wright, welder, craftsmen, builder, repairman, carpenter, husband and Father.

But this isn’t about him, it’s about me.

I am an adult now, I make my own destiny, my own memories.

I can choose to spend a Sunday afternoon watching eleven hours of football and grilling burgers with my buddies, or I can take the trip down that long familiar road and see the man who made me and learn a little about why I’m here.

I’m a man that wants something specific in life. I want those that knew me to have respect for me and a place for me in their heart. I try to love my brother and my neighbor as I love myself.

If I can forgive myself for the mistakes I have made, and learn to live without regrets, than I can forgive those who have made mistakes in my wake.

There was a period in my existence when I resented my family for not staying together, or for raising me in a “broken home.” But I have since realized that people are imperfect, life does not follow a set path and you make your own destiny.

So now, instead of calling my friends to talk sports and other equally unimportant issues, I phone my Father and try and make him laugh.

Instead of spending $4.50 on fries and shake with my buddies, I buy a box of pizza and plant myself on the couch next to my pops and endure hours of home renovation television shows.

While it took time to build what we have now; an honest, trusting, caring relationship, the only regret I have is “Why didn’t I do this sooner?

 

 

Bring back OUR girls

On April 15, 2014, almost 300 girls were abducted by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram from a school in Nigeria. While this may not be news to many, as it has been a story flashing on media outlets for weeks, it is still powerful and frightening. People across the world have been outraged by the abduction and many have used social media and the hash tag #bringbackourgirls to raise a unified voice in protest. The United States and other countries have reached out to Nigeria and are finally allowed to assist in the recovery of the girls. Unfortunately, it has been over a month since the abduction and many fear the extremists have started to sell the girls into marriage.

One aspect of this story that is most striking is how unified and widespread the outcry has been in the international community. Yet, quite a few people in the news and on social media have raised the point – why is this story of 300 abducted garnering so much attention when many more horrific occurrences have taken place?

Honestly, this is a good point, but there is a valid reason the story has caused such a massive reaction. People are not discrediting or ignoring the tragedies and atrocities that are occurring across the globe. The civil war in Syria, the encroachment of Russia on Ukraine, the attack on the Kenyan shopping mall, famine across the globe and civil rights violations in numerous countries – these are just as significant, if not more horrific than the abduction. Even in Nigeria there have been numerous killings over ethnic and political lines for years by the Islamist group.

But there is one factor that makes this story powerful – child abduction is a fear that is universally translatable. Many can understand the fear for helpless children, of a parent losing a child, of young girls being controlled and abused by grown men. These fears can be grasped and understood by almost anyone – no matter the difference in nationality, religion, language or social standing.

In contrast, the immense amount of violence over political and religious controversy is so expansive and so prevalent in the media that many people are conditioned to expect it. Few are surprised to hear of war, of hunger and death in far away countries.

While the various global events going on are horrific and such “conditioning,” is disconcerting, there is hope. Just as the story of the Nigerian school girls has caught global attention, we can continue to build on being part of an international community. Technology has enabled us to exchange news and maintain connections all across the globe – we are forever entwined.

With this ever growing interconnectedness comes a more defined sense of responsibility. As an international community we should continue to set standards and work together so every person has the same rights and liberties that American citizens are born with.

No, the US does not have to play babysitter – that is not its job, nor is it qualified to oversee the rest of the world by itself. But as an international community we can work together to support and help each other.

Countries do not have to agree or even understand the ways of other countries, but mutual respect and an understanding of the basic fact we are ALL humans can go a long way. So as an American citizen, as a human, as a woman, as a part of this international community I ask – bring back OUR girls.

At the cusp of politics and play time

On Thursday, someone sent me a link to a story from NBC News telling of how lawmakers in the New York State Senate this week deliberated for an hour before finally passing a highly contested bill. The topic worthy of such mindful deliberation, you ask? Whether or not yogurt should be made the official snack of New York.

The report details the debate among senators during what I’m going to call the great yogurt debacle of 2014. Some officials questioned how honoring yogurt might offend people who are lactose intolerant or “if the designation would conflict with the state’s official muffin, the apple muffin.” The story continues, “Senators also debated whether low-fat or Greek yogurts would get the honor of state snack if the bill passed. One member of the legislative body wondered if yogurt could even be considered a snack, since some eat it for breakfast.”

Ultimately, the bill, which only materialized as part of a project undertaken by a group fourth graders in an upstate elementary school, did pass in a 52-8 vote – but it took one senator to point out that the discussion was about 57 minutes on the lengthy side.

And so it’s safe to draw one more tally mark for another great success reached by your elected state legislators.

You can’t make this stuff up. Why would you?

On another note, Sunday is Mother’s Day, as we’ve indicated through multiple pictures of flowers that appeared this week in The Evening Sun. So if you’re like me and have waited until the last minute to make a macaroni necklace or glue popsicle sticks into the vague shape of a picture frame, I wish you the very best of luck.

A needle in a haystack?

Drugs are everywhere, and there is definitely a problem coursing though our quaint sub-new England streets – a problem which everyone seems to have been made well aware of.
To many, it seems heroin has killed and claimed the livelihood of our once naïve youth. Members of our community have died from overdose, toddlers are being diagnosed with Hepatitis and the ever growing drug crime rate continues to escalate towards numbers not seen since the 1970′s.
Even at my office, I spend most days proofing and editing copy written by others I work with. They spend their time writing and reporting the hot-button issues surrounding both the drug trade and consequential criminal and penal repercussions associated with the lifestyle.
Luckily, The topic has still primarily been kept at bay for me on a personal level; but things are evolving everyday – and now I cannot help but take notice.
One of the first experiences that peaked my attention was the discovery of a used syringe that was happened upon in the parking lot between the two buildings where I work.
The officer who responded drove his patrol unit to “the scene,” and I estimate that it took longer to drive here than it would had the Officer simply walked across the parking lot that separates the two properties.
I only mention that to shed some perspective on the proximity of my office to law enforcement 24/7. We can literally see in each other’s windows; depending on the direction of the prevailing winds one of my kids could probably glide a paper airplane over there. It’s that close.
At any rate, the police were called to handle the situation and in the end no one was actually hurt, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t an unnerving event. They did handle the needle, and I’ll presume that they disposed of it responsibly according to their protocol.
Later that day while discussing the matter with or editor and publisher, we were informed that if we were ever to discover something of the like, we should inform management who would summon the police to deal with it again accordingly.
Since then, I have become more and more aware of where I walk and where I step for fear of getting poked by medical waste. This is the society we live in now, and I can’t help but feel saddened by it.
I briefed my grandparents – who moved to Norwich in 1965 to raise my mother, aunt and uncles – about the situation; and their reaction was especially disheartening. They were somewhere between heartbroken and appalled.
Recently, I had heard word through an online social media site that an acquaintance of mine – whom I had attended high school with here in Norwich – had an similar, yet amplified experience. He and I are both fathers with children around the same age, as we’re about the same age.
I was originally going to write of his experience as a news piece for my work, but decided that because of how strongly I felt that I couldn’t remain objective no matter who hard I tried.
Tree trimmers had been hired to to work behind his home and they discovered what is believed to be nearly 40 used syringes that tenants of the adjoining property to the rear of his had disposed of by tossing atop a garage roof.
I assume that they (whomever discarded the used sharps) thought that the dirty needles would never be discovered. As addicts often do, they most likely became increasingly ignorant and complacent with the practice – only for it to eventually become routine. The fact that my friend’s daughters swing set and the backyard they often play in together surely never crossed their minds.
My friend summoned the police – who drove over to his neighborhood – and informed the authorities of the discovery, much like the procedure that went down here at the office.
Based on his experience, this is where the similarities of the two experiences begin to differ.
The responding officer indicated that there was nothing that they could do for him… because the litter wasn’t on HIS property.  The officer indicated it wasn’t the Police Department’s  responsibility to pick them up and that HE should figure out how to safely dispose of them. The landlord of the property claimed that he too wasn’t responsible, and scoffed – having no time to deal with such trivial issues.
I surely hope that this is an isolated reaction of both our paid law enforcement and community’s landlords, simply because this behavior only encourages blatant disregard for the future of this country everyone claims to love so dear.
I sincerely hope that they – like the addicts– do not become increasingly ignorant and complacent with the practice – only for it to eventually became routine. At the end of the day, if you’re not a part of the solution, what are you really a part of?

Swept away on an ‘Odyssey’

This Friday I attended the premiere of S-E Drama Club’s “The Odyssey” and was impressed with the actors both individually and their work with the set. Adapted by Thomas Hischack for the stage from Homer’s classic work, the play was directed by Colleen Law-Tefft.
The set mainly consisted of large blocks and a few other simplistic pieces, which brought the focus more on the actors and the story they portrayed. It was not difficult to be swept up in the story – I felt as if I was in Troy watching as Odysseus and his men combatted their opponents. I watched as they fought the towering Cyclops, were bewitched by Circe and navigated Poseidon’s angry seas.
What I love best about the play is that it is a story of family, courage, and most importantly, of endurance.
Towards the end of the play Telemachus summarized it best when he said, “The gods do all of the magic, but in the end it is the mortals that fight the battle.”
All of the actors did a good job portraying their characters and I was very impressed with Lukas Fetzko, who played “a stranger.” He had the most lines to remember as he served as narrator throughout the play. He was able to capture the wisdom of his character, as well as his fortitude.
Dmitri Sofranko was very compelling as Odysseus and came across as a strong and determined leader. The suitors were equally humorous and repugnant with their sorry attempts to win Queen Penelope’s hand. The queen was ever gracious and hospitable despite the horrible circumstances.
The other members worked well acting as multiple characters. One group served as nymphs, handmaidens, sirens and even the dangerous waters of Charybdis by moving around with blue scarves.
Danielle Purdy played a seductive and intriguing Calypso, while the nurse and Athena highlighted the strength and importance of female characters in the play.
The play was at times humorous, moving and sad, especially when Odysseus lost all of his men and was kept on Calypso’s island for many years. His return home was everything one would hope – evil was defeated and a king was returned to his rightful place, reunited with his family after 20 years.
I spoke with the actors after the show and they were all pleased with the performance. Sofranko explained that he liked the challenge of working with the set.
Rachel Taylor, who played the nurse, added to this when she said, “It’s different being your own stage crew here.”
For me the play emphasized the importance of theatre, especially for students. Some of my favorite memories were acting and working in stage crew during high school. I felt included and was able to interact with other students.
Law-Tefft explains it best in the “From the Director’s Chair.”
“…theatre can become a great way of pulling people together from various backgrounds and experiences,” she wrote. “They are all working toward finding the truth in the script and what the author intended, then presenting it for the audience’s enjoyment.”

© 2014 Snyder Communications/The Evening Sun
29 Lackawanna Avenue, Norwich, NY 13815 - (607) 334-3276