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.”

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…

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