I hope he’s happy with life

I was waiting at a stop sign the other day as a young boy was crossing the street. Green and black hoodie, jeans, head down, glasses. I’ll guess he was 13. I’m not sure why, but the first thought that popped in my head was, “I wonder what life is like for this young man in school.”
This had me thinking about bullying for the past couple days.
A bully is defined as a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. So, let’s be real … there are bullies all over town.
However that boy crossing the street started a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing regarding young folks, schools, and aggression, so that’s where I’ll try to focus this.
In school, I was super quiet. I could go an entire school day without uttering a single word aloud. No one really gave me a hard time. I had friends, naturally, but we didn’t have class together, so I’d just do my thing. Teachers never really ‘called on’ me, so I could literally go the entire day without speaking. That changed some in high school, but teachers left me alone for the most part. So did other students who weren’t friends with me. It was perfect. I’d associate with who I wanted, and that was that.
There was one instance that I remember that sticks out. I had to get surgery in both junior and senior year. I was on crutches for six weeks each time. I was supposed to be allowed to leave class five minutes prior to everyone else so that I wouldn’t get trampled over when everyone else was in the halls. There was one school employee who wouldn’t let me. It was the class right before lunch, and it was assumed that if I was late getting there, it wasn’t a class, so it didn’t matter.
Anyway, I was making my way to my destination and behind me I heard a certain female who will remain nameless say, “Hurry up. I’m about to trip a [expletive].”
I remember contemplating stopping, and just sticking my right arm out to trip her with my crutch. I didn’t.
That is my only memory of anyone being snarky to me in school. So I had it pretty good.
I remember fights in the cafeteria. Fights in the hallway. Fights in the classroom. Groups of folks making fun of other students because of socioeconomic status. People belittling others because of their choice of attire. Because of their name.
And you know what? I could name more than thirty aggressors and victims of said aggression right off the top of my head. But I won’t. I can remember the day of the week certain fights took place. And I can remember what was done about it.
… Nothing.
I’m sure there are people who have been very badly injured while on school property (not only physically, but also psychologically). I’m also willing to bet the aggressors are not only students.
Well, I suppose I think back to the boy who was crossing the road. He just didn’t look pleased. Sure, it could have been because he doesn’t like school. But I can’t help but wonder:
’What if someone made fun of him because of his weight just minutes prior to my run-in with him?’ ‘What if someone pushed him up against the wall in the bathroom today?’ ‘What if his teacher called him dumb?’ ‘What if he’s walking home to an abusive parent and would rather stay at school?’ ‘What if he beat someone up himself?’
Lots of ‘what ifs.”
I guess what I’m curious about is how altercations or aggressive situations are handled in public school.
If it’s ‘taken care of by administration internally,’ then I think that’s bogus. Rarely does something helpful result from an internal investigation.
Let’s say a physical altercation happens in a public school. Is law enforcement called? If so, does the law enforcement employee use aggression on the student alleged to have been the perpetrator? If the answer to that is yes, then what does that teach other students about violence? That also begs the question, “Is violence okay sometimes?”
Okay, let me back up, my thoughts are getting ahead of me. As a human, I have the innate right to defend myself if being aggressed upon.
No one is going to lay a hand on me and get away with it. If someone uses words in an attempt to threaten or harass me, I am able to diffuse the situation swiftly. But not everyone is like me.
Some people are short tempered, some people do not think they are capable of defending themselves, some folks are easily intimidated.
Everyone is different.
One blanket, ‘This is how we handle bullying,’ is not going to work.
Are aggressors in schools held accountable for their actions? Are victims made whole?
Or is, ‘You’re going to sit in this other room for two days,’ still the punishment? If that’s the case, nothing is solved.
And further, will it ever be solved? There are always going to be jerks. And there will always be those who are less likely to defend themselves for various reasons.
A friend said her child was verbally and physically accosted while on his way home from school yesterday by two schoolmates. The aggressors were two females and the victim, a boy. She said the females called her son an expletive and pushed him to the ground.
What’s the recourse there? It didn’t happen on the property of the the public school, it happened on the street. Should the school be informed? Should the aggressor’s parents be informed? What happens if nothing happens and there’s a ‘next time?’
I am willing to bet there are ‘next times’ that happen daily in schools. I’m willing to bet there are victims of aggression in school that will never say a word. I’m sure there are some who do ask for help and nothing is done. I bet there are students who are bullied both at home and at school, and they’re not all that happy with life.
This is just a lot of ‘Ashley rambling’ on a Saturday morning while drinking coffee. I know where I stand on the issue, but I’m really curious as to how parents, current students, and administration feel about it.
… I also hope the boy in that green and black hoodie is happy with life.

A special kind of double

As Mother’s Day approaches, normally I would quip and simper about how much I love my mom, which I DO. Absolutely. But that seems a little cliché and I feel like using this white space and your attention span more wisely by discussing something else. I have just learned that my little sister, my baby sister, my accomplice in all things devious… is expecting a baby.
Need I emphasize that she is my YOUNGER sister? I think it is this fact, this long ago logistical occurrence that made me the eldest, which is shaking me a bit. I’m the one that is supposed to experience and do everything first. How am I supposed to guide my siblings with my wisdom if they are so far ahead of me in this game called life?
Now, that’s not to say that I’m gung-ho to have my own baby (I’m pretty certain a male counterpart is required for that, anyway). But I would love to be able to guide my sister through this scary and exciting process.
I think I could manage changing a diaper but I get uneasy whenever I hold an infant (which has been a rare occurrence). And my mom and sister always smirk at me when I talk about being a mother. Do they know something I don’t?
Their reaction is valid. I do tend to panic when a baby starts crying. What do I do? How do I make it stop? I also happen to like my independence and would love to travel more. I’m certainly not planning on saving money for baby food and formula. God forbid, future college payments. I’m just beginning to pay off my own.
Perhaps I should stop worrying… My sister has a natural grace and easiness with children, especially babies, that I’ve always admired and often envied. She was always the more maternal one out of the two of us.
Toni Morrison once said, “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.”
While my sister is separate from me in that we are going down very different paths, she is also a part of me. She is an extension of myself and I look forward to this epic, life-long journey. She may be a mother, and I may be an aunt, but we will remain sisters. Strong and steadfast.

I’ll see you at the mall

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the short four and a half years I have been married, it’s how much I despise clothes shopping. The crowded stores, trying things on, waiting in lines, and the spending money I don’t have. In the broad scheme of things, what is there to like about it?

Yet every few months, I’m grounded in a department store trying to keep myself entertained, all the while holding my wife’s coat an pocketbook so she can browse the seasonal clearance items. To my credit, I can hold it together pretty well; that is, until we hit the underwear section. Then I’m just some schmo standing next to a mannequin in lingerie – still clenching that pocketbook and trying to bond with the other husbands like we’re a legitimate brotherhood.

So those are my Saturday plans…

I might also mention (for those who don’t have a full purse-clenching, money-spending, lingerie-watching day planned already) that Saturday is also the annual kids’ Easter egg hunt in East and West Parks in downtown Norwich. The Maydole Hose Company, in collaboration with the Norwich BID and Norwich Merchants’ Association, are generous in donating some pretty cool prizes for this event every year. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly thousands of plastic eggs can disappear. And perhaps more fun is watching Evening Sun photographer Frank Speziale get lost in a stampede of kids that are 60 years his junior but three-quarters his size. That’s something everybody can enjoy.

As for the people with no desire to see an Italian photographer get lost in a sea of excited kids, Saturday will also be the annual hunger walk sponsored by the the First Baptist Church in Norwich. The hunger walk is a special event to promote hunger awareness throughout the area. It’s a good event worth every minute.

Easter dinner: tradition or innovation?

Holidays, as much as they resonate with religious and/or historic importance, are also the times when I celebrate the joys, challenges and vibrancy of food. From appetizers, entrees and dessert to wine and various accoutrements, I am in love. A, let’s waltz in the rain, hold hands as we grow old, fairy tale, type of love that has as much to do with my head as my stomach.
For me, food is an exploration of history, cultures and an exercise in commonality. Everyone has to eat, right? So, as Easter approaches, I revel in the experience of preparation and planning.
Most of the food my grandmothers, mother and I will prepare this coming Sunday has already been pre-determined. Drawing from their memories of Easter as children, my grandmothers have shared the recipes and the know-how to my mother, sister and I. In my family this knowledge is basic, but fundamental, and is one of the best, most treasured legacies.
The main event of Easter dinner (that’s right, dinner not brunch) includes a baked ham, studded with cloves and a sweet glaze. Pink and tender, it always has the right blend of salt, sweet and smoke. In addition to the ham there are deviled eggs (which my grandma is renowned for), mashed potatoes, gravy, baked beans, various salads and, to finish, sumptuous pies (of the apple and pumpkin variety). Everything is simply, but lovingly prepared, and reminds me of my family’s roots. We come from rural, country folk and the food is a celebration of the local farmers and produce that serve as the foundation for each dish.
As much as I relish in these dishes and look forward to sampling them each Easter, I’ve also realized how much Easter dinner can vary for each family. The variety grows exponentially when one steps outside of the Christian holiday to consider food prepared by those of other faiths in celebration of other holidays.
But for now I’ll focus on Easter dishes that I’ve found and would love to try – especially those that center around brunch rather than dinner (of which I’m most accustomed). Though different from the recipes I grew up with, they sound just as delicious and have that extra spice that only newness can provide.
First, I’d love to explore a recipe that involves fresh, rather than cured ham. Sam Sifton, from the Dining & Wine department of The New York Times, suggests buying a fresh ham from a local butcher. In regards to preparation he writes, “An easier route to fresh-ham perfection involves simply scoring the skin of the ham in a diamond pattern, then rubbing a mixture of salt and pepper all over the skin, pressing it down into the fat between the cuts.”
He goes on with cooking directions and instructs the cook to baste with, “…a mixture of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and cinnamon, as well as with the fat in the bottom of the pan. The rind will grow crisper and darker along the way.”
I don’t know about you but this description, paired with an equally tantalizing picture, made me drool. Ok, almost drool (I was taught some semblance of manners).
I also would like to try this recipe, baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms, which looks delectable. Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs to snoop out new, well-tested recipes and this particular recipe has the added perk of being healthy, gluten/grain-free, vegetarian and has a very pretty presentation.
The last recipe I will share, and continue to fantasize about, is a lemon and blueberry cupcake recipe I saw air on FoodNetwork. I made sure to track it down online because it seems like a perfectly sweet and not too heavy ending to the Easter meal. With fresh grated lemon, fresh blueberries and a lemony buttercream, I could barely resist darting into the kitchen after seeing her pull them out of the oven.
While I may not have the time or ambition to try all three of these recipes, I do promise to try one. Stay tuned – a report on said recipe will soon follow! Though I will need time to sip a glass of wine and clean the much dreaded dishes…

Pot, meet kettle.

I learned of the Bundy Ranch situation near Mesquite, Nevada a week ago and with mixed feelings felt somewhat grey about whose ethics should be questioned. Is the federal government in the wrong for using force and coercion in defending or upholding a law? Should Cliven Bundy get a “hall pass” to renege on his agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and halt paying his dues because he feels that government isn’t holding up it’s end of the bargain?
To me, those issues are just a snippet of an even larger issue.
Although the fight between Bundy and the BLM has widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy, Bundy has chosen to not recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada, land that his family has grazed its cattle on for centuries.
Funny as history repeating itself (and how fickle the memory) can be – it’s still always there.
Call me a sentimentalist, if you will, but does this country not recall the atrocities splayed upon the Native Americans for over two hundred years?
I know, I know – there’s nothing that we can do about it now because it was in fact our ancestors who concocted to deceive and go back on their word for the rights of the entire North American Continent.
Or can we?
The poignant feelings left on my palette have spilled down through the generations of my family. I remember very clearly my Grandfather and Father explaining to me their sympathy of the natives that came before us. Our family farm in White’s Store was purchased by a Revolutionary War soldier who married a Mohawk Native American long before it was transferred to my family, who would later settle the land into a dairy and live there for six generations.
There’s a great deal of irony and little contrast between the two, including the lack of pigment and facial structures. Bundy believes that he has somehow been disenfranchised, and that his rights – or the rights of his family (his “people”) pre-date the government.
Pot, Meet kettle.
Bundy does not recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada… Much like the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho did at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, more eloquently referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.
We all know how that turned out… while the Sioux won one of the greatest battles of Great Sioux War of 1876, Custer and the 7th calvary would end up “winning” in the end.
All I can say is that I sincerely hope history fails to repeat itself.

The Struggle of Life, the Beauty of Friends

I graduated from college in 2012 and I have to say – finding decent work, much less a career I love, has been an excruciating, long and discouraging process. Yes, I know many people who graduated with degrees in finance, the sciences, or happen to be trust-fund babies and are doing very, very well. But for the rest of us, especially those who love and studied the humanities like myself, it has been a huge struggle to find work that pays the bills. Even more difficult to find work that feeds our souls.

I have friends who work in food service, have administrative jobs, hold positions at banks, work in marketing and teach. The list goes on.

Though their level of satisfaction with their paycheck, career trajectory and expendable income varies widely, I’m beginning to see a spark of hope. We are slowly getting there. Don’t get me wrong – there are still massive set backs and mishaps. But overall the people I graduated with are edging closer to finding creativity and satisfaction in their work (including me).

There has also been a slow but steady change into actual adulthood, which is both scary and exciting to see. He married her? She had whose baby? They have their own house? What?!

Pause. While these changes are lovely, I am comfortable delaying this set of forever life-altering events. I like to think my close friends and I are taking our time. Some of us are considering graduate school and all of us are law-abiding, tax paying citizens who work hard for our somewhat measly income. We balance this with active social lives and finding cute outfits that fit our budget. Toss in the complicated mess that is dating the opposite sex and we are very busy.

There are two facts that I’ve learned since graduation. The first – life rarely works out the way you’d expect. In order to navigate this unknown landscape you must remain true to yourself and maintain constant self-awareness. The second – connections, from friends and family to even random encounters, are what ground you when everything else blows up. They will be there to serve as guides, to pass along the tissues as you cry, and best of all, they will serve as your champion when you forget your potential.

Now that the blinders of childhood have come off, I’ve realized that life is rarely easy. Then again, no one promised it would be. As a result, my friends and I have learned the importance of friendship. We may not be headed in the same direction, but we will move forward together. By supporting each other we can conquer the world. And hopefully won’t break too many hearts along the way…

Rambling: live music, NH, vacation

My favorite shows are the ones in venues that are tiny. They’re most likely either really hard to find, or I’m just a really poor navigator. I know the latter is the truth.
I got my car at 16, and that’s the time I realized that not much beats a road trip to a show with a group of friends. Well, quite honestly, I have no problem flyin’ solo.
Since probably 14 or 15 I’ve been into independent, socially conscious hip hop (Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Immortal Technique, Eyedea & Abilities, Brother Ali, Sage Francis, Mac Lethal … I could continue, but won’t), reggae, and slam poetry. Funk, jazz fusion, blues, folk … all of that fun stuff too. You can keep your rock, country and pop, I don’t need any of that.
Sage Francis show in Philly? I’m there. Soja in Allentown? You betcha. Mac Lethal in Buffalo? Of course.
When I was 17 my friends and I decided to drive to Tennessee to go to Bonnaroo, a music festival with some 90,000 people.
That was a fun adventure. Planned for it for months. But not really. I mean, we bought our tickets months ahead of time, and I saved as much money as I could. But I packed my things the day we drove off.
I went to Bonnaroo again the following year. More adventures, more memories, more music. It was a good time.
There were a couple folks I met that remain – in my experience – the kindest humans I’ve encountered in my 25 years. 110 degrees in the middle of a field in Tennessee: Barely any shade, no shower for days, and I had the pleasure of randomly meeting strangers who I still think of all these years later.
To the man over 60 in the big floppy half-deflated inner tube hat: I hope you’re still around, loving life. Thank you for being the epitome of a kind human.
At any rate, Bonnaroo was fun for a 17-year-old Ashley.
I still prefer tiny venues where you can still feel the vibe from the show the night before. The place that just reeks of live music.
My friends and I would realize that someone we listened to had a show in, say, Philly, in a month or two – and within an hour our tickets would be purchased and we’d have our “plan.”
That is, get in the car that day, make sure we have gas to get there and back, and (personally) enough money in my pocket to give to a homeless individual if s/he asked. (On the sixth grade safety patrol trip we were told not to give money to people on the street. I have ever since. It’s my money, I’ll do with it what I wish).
I’ve been to hip hop shows in basements of buildings in cities I’d never been to before. It’s taken me forever to get out of Boston at 3 a.m. following a show because I am horrible with directions. Coming back from a show in Buffalo once, I still swear we were mere inches from smoking a deer on the thruway (I wasn’t driving that time … If I were, I’m sure we would have hit it. I’m notorious for that).
Each show brings me something to look forward to. A reason to continue to be happy when I have days that bum me out.
“Ugh, today really was not so awesome. Oh! Only three weeks until the Soja show, I’m good.”
It’s similar to how I feel when I plan a trip to New Hampshire. Knowing there are escapes that will refresh my soul keep me going.
Life wouldn’t be all that fun if all I ever did was work. I need those fantastic adventures to be able to tell little tikes later on.
Anyway, I’m not entirely sure why I’m blogging about this. It’s just a stream-of-consciousness ramble.
Oh, that’s right … I was thinking about upcoming plans and got excited.
I’ll be spending a full week camping in the White Mountains in New Hampshire in June. It’s the first time I’ll be taking a vacation. It’ll be my second trip to the Porcupine Freedom Festival. Last year, I could only go for the weekend, this year I’ll be there the entire week.
I also just learned (and by ‘just’ I mean … 20 minutes ago), that Michael Franti, Soja, and Trevor Hall will be playing in New Hampshire in July. I’ll purchase my ticket as soon as they go on sale next week. I’ve seen them all before, but it’s been too long. And better yet, they’re playing in one of the most beautiful areas of the lakes region in NH. A region I’ve only seen when the leaves were bright orange, so I’m excited to see it in the summertime.
Ahh… live music. New Hampshire. Escape.
And on that note, it’s back to work.

Traveling is my passion

I don’t travel too often.

Scratch that. I don’t travel at all. Truth is, I rarely have the time or money to make the three-mile trip to the grocery store, let alone board a plane headed anywhere but here. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to travel someday – to Rome, Beijing, Mumbai, or, as my wife suggests, Fort Worth, Texas. But my wallet holds more moths and IOUs than it does travel rewards, so you can imagine how often I see the world outside Chenango County. I imagine it lives up to the glitz and glamor of fairytale cities the likes of Oz or Wonderland.

Then again, some of the characters I meet right here at home bar a striking resemblance to those seen in an unconventional fairytale.

Traveling is near the top of my bucket list and I’m ready to take off any time. I have a vacation savings account started, several possible destinations pinned on a map, one of those plastic toothbrush protectors, and enough clean underwear to get me at least two weeks (three or four if I turn them inside out). Yes, barring threats of terrorism, civil unrest, plague of locusts or natural disaster, I’m ready to head off to wherever – probably Fort Worth, since that’s what my wife wants. And if there’s something I’ve learned in four years of marriage, it’s when the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Nevertheless, traveling anywhere might still be a ways off. Fortunately there’s plenty to do in Norwich this weekend. On Friday, the curtain opens on this year’s production of “Damn Yankees” at the Norwich High School, the Chenango County Historical Society is unveiling their latest exhibit which celebrates the centennial of the City of Norwich on Saturday, and the Norwich Dollars for Scholars 5k takes off early Saturday. I look forward to all of them.

First Day Jitters

When I arrived at the Evening Sun for my first day as a reporter I had to sit in my car for a few minutes after I pulled into the parking lot. I wiped my palms on my pants because they were sweaty and made sure to take a few deep breaths. But as soon as I entered the office I relaxed because Ashley and Matt greeted me with warm and friendly smiles – even though I was interrupting their meeting. Matt asked me to sit and went into a break down of a typical day.

They both made me feel at ease and answered my questions, which were quite numerous considering the fact that I have never worked as a journalist before. Don’t get me wrong – I have enjoyed writing since I was little (just ask my mom). But I haven’t had much experience interviewing before (yikes!) and my note taking can get pretty messy. So please, dear reader, if I happen to interview you, I would greatly appreciate patience and understanding as I navigate my way through asking questions.

But I digress… After figuring out what story idea I should pitch for my first article the fun continued. I was introduced to Richard Snyder, owner of Snyder Communications, who was very warm and informative. Shawn offered to show me around and I was able to meet District Attorney Joseph McBride and Mayor Joseph Maiurano. He thought it best I meet them because I will be covering the cases that appear in the courtroom – a task I am excited to take on.

Overall, I feel lucky to have joined a fun team, I’ve started a career that will allow me to write and get paid for it (everyone in the journalism industry knows how rare a thing that is), and I get to interview the people that make up the area and home I love. I couldn’t ask for more than that!

I love naming things, except blogs.

In July I traded in my car. I got it from my father when I turned 16, and named it Saucey. It was a 2005 Chevy Cobalt. The first song I listened to in that car was G. Love and Special Sauce’s “Baby’s Got Sauce,” and therefore Saucey was the only appropriate name for him.
Yes, “him.” I name just about every object I cross paths with. Everything is given a male’s name, because I’ve always thought they were better options. Felix, Saucey, Victor, Toby … all these are names of things I own or am in contact with often.
“Hey, Shawn … did anyone water and rotate Victor today?” I named former Sports Editor Pat Newell’s 30-year-old tangerine tree Victor. And no, I don’t think he has been watered and rotated yet today.
At any rate, Saucey took me on thousand of adventures. He was a solid little car. His time with me was up, and I cried when I traded him in and purchased a 2013 Subaru.
I thought I’d never see my faithful pal ever again.
I’m happy to report that is not the case, and Saucey is alive and well, as of last Saturday.
Shawn sent me a photo months ago of a blue Chevy Cobalt parked in the lot of a Norwich business and asked if it might be Saucey. It most certainly was. The broken antenna and the little spot of blue paint near the back left bumper where it was supposed to be black was a give-away.
That antenna got bent when I was living in Buffalo going to school for psychology. There was a snow storm in early October that dropped more than two feet of snow, and bent the antenna. That must have been 2006; I never got it fixed. I just periodically would have to “push and turn” and it’d go back to its original position, and it’d stay that way until I drove faster than 50 mph, in which case I’d have to fix it again.
It also poked many people in the eye. Those people need better observation skills when walking through parking lots.
Shawn said the antenna remains bent and that is how he identifies it as Saucey.
I’ve replaced Saucey with a car I call ‘Schino. He’s “deep cherry red” and the first song I listened to in that vehicle was an Aesop Rock tune that references maraschino cherries at one point.
‘Schino was just a baby when I bought him, and he just broke 10,000 miles. I did some math the other day, and realized that nearly 7,000 of those miles were built up traveling to, from, or within New Hampshire. That made me a very happy camper. I’m looking forward to thousands more journeys with my new pal.
Anyway, this blog is pretty much about nothing. I name things, including my cars, and I’m happy to know that Saucey is still around town.
To whomever acquired Saucey: Thanks for keepin’ him going. I hope he’s treating you as well as he treated me.

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