Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Friday, December 28, 2012

Let It Snow, Baby

We finally got snow this week, just in time for Christmas. Growing up I actually don't remember a Christmas in my hometown when there wasn't snow. I've lived in a few places where snow wasn't a guarantee at the end of December, and like the relentless salmon, I always navigated to snowy home when it came time for lighted trees and family. 

This year was a bit strange at first. Not a December drop of the white stuff, only crispy grass and, in a few cases, temperatures in the 50s and 60s. I strung mini-lights on my porch in short sleeves and fought against melancholy. Would the words I'm dreaming of a white Christmas be accurate this year? Would I only be dreaming of snowy blankets? My gift wrapping was lackluster: it just didn't feel like Christmas.

Then the snow started last weekend. Not only were the rooftops covered, not only had the unraked leaves vanished at last, and not only were the newel posts and tree branches layered with a million geometric shapes, but the snow that fell was magical. On Christmas Eve, when guests and neighbors were sleeping, I donned heavy coat and scarf and went out to the street. I stood there alone in the silence of my town and turned my face to the sky. Snow fell like sugar, as though some benevolent giant stood high above scattering handfuls onto my cheeks and hair. I was transfixed, the only sound the icy powder's gentle shushing and ticking as it settled to ground. There were no tire tracks in the street in front of my house, no footprints but mine. Everyone was at home, burrowed under blankets, tamping out fires, tying last-minute ribbons on last-minute gifts as the world outside swirled. Then I sat bundled on my porch and waited for Santa, almost believing that his sleigh might glide by so spellbinding was the night.

Snow, for some, means plowing and shoveling and scraping and slippery rides. Not for me. Winter -- and certainly Christmas -- should not feature orange groves and trips to Disney. We humans need to wind down; we need to witness the cycle of life, the one that begins with falling leaves and concludes with stark, frosted trees. Looking to the sky and watching clouds release their frozen drops is my anchor. When in months ahead the snow arrives in earnest, I'll listen for early morning plows scratching away in the parking lot nearby; I'll notice the muffled rumble of tires on the eastern street, and I'll have boots and hats at the ready. Not all snow is magical, I know that. And just when I've had enough, when I've scraped my windshield one too many times and cursed the next storm front, spring rains will appear and melt the snowbanks away. Then the cycle will click forward, the season will change, and life will start again.

But we are in winter now; and in winter, I say let it snow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Very Harry Christmas

A lovely Christmas here in snowy Sherburne, although Harry didn't think much of his new parka...

Friday, December 21, 2012

The World Is Still Around

I'm writing this it's 1:35 a.m. Friday, December 21, 2012. So far so good regarding the world's demise, although it is a bit windy outside. Maybe the Mayans were talking about Winter Storm Draco. They probably didn't like snow.

Heard something hilarious regarding people and their end-of-the-world bunkers: one woman was bragging about her giant tube-shaped shelter. She said "We have food and water and enough room for 8 people to sleep. And we have a big flat screen television!"

Now I wonder...what did she think she was going to watch on TV when the world came to an end? If Satan arrived to send us all hurtling to Hell, maybe Fox so-called news would still be around. With the devil himself broadcasting, no doubt.

As for me, I'm going to bed and will finish up Christmas shopping over the weekend, happy that I didn't spend a hundred grand on an underground hideout.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Death of Innocents and Innocence

It's late at night on Monday. Actually, it's early in the morning on Tuesday. I've spent the last few days alternately turning the television news on and off, looking at images of a small town in Connecticut, of reporters on the scene, of sobbing parents, and of smiling faces of little kids who are now dead. I've talked with dozens of people and read a hundred Facebook posts. The situation in Newtown reminds me a bit of 9-11. Everyone's talking about it, everyone has an opinion about gun control, and nobody has a clue what would make a 20-year-old man walk into an elementary school and slaughter children.

My own opinion about gun control is fuzzy at best. I grew up in a rural community where deer hunting is a part of life. During hunting season not a day goes by that I don't hear the pop of guns in the woods and, later, maybe see deer hanging in somebody's lot. Many people here have guns. My dad had gun, which he used more than once: to shoot rabid animals, and our dog who got hit by a car and needed to be put down. Dad even shot a snapping turtle once, a big one that had wandered into the driveway near his small daughter (me). Dad's shotgun hung over the dining room door for most of my childhood. My uncles and cousins had guns. Nobody that I knew of had a handgun, and most certainly no one I knew had a semi-automatic. My people were farmers and hunters, those who dealt with animals on a regular basis and sometimes found it necessary, for whatever reason, to shoot one. Now, it seems, the animals are the ones carrying.

There has been much talk since Friday. People ranting about gun control, others protesting to protect our right to have one. I remember seeing Tom Selleck on the Rosie O'Donnell show after Columbine. Rosie was really going after him, because Tom was a member of the NRA, and Tom was handling it pretty well. Finally, after listening to Rosie shout that the guns need to go, Tom made a good point: 30 years ago, when someone wanted to commit suicide, they just went ahead and shot themself. Now, before pulling the final trigger, they feel a need to take a bunch of people with them. This is a cultural issue, Selleck told her, not a gun issue. Like I said: I'm fuzzy on this, but I think he was right.

This is not to say that I believe semi-automatic weapons should be at the ready for anyone to buy. I don't think they should be, and in fact feel confident that our founding fathers with their muskets didn't write the second amendment with semi-automatic weapons in mind. They were worrying about the Brits marching through the back field and felt we Americans needed to be able to defend ourselves. I imagine those fine gentlemen are rolling in their graves today at the prospect of their beloved Right To Keep And Bear Arms resulting in the massacre of babies.

But I believe Mr. Selleck -- and many of the psychologists who appeared over the weekend on TV talk shows -- are correct: mass shootings, like that at Columbine, and Aurora, and now Newtown, will not be solved by taking the guns. Our disenfranchised youth are killing people for other reasons. If they don't have guns, they'll find something else. Trucks full of gasoline. Swords. Homemade bombs. The killing isn't about the weapon they use, it's about what's going on in their heads. Just exactly what is going on in their heads remains the conundrum.

Years ago a friend of mine went squirrel hunting with her daddy. He warned her she might not like it, but she insisted. She was maybe 12 years old. They went into the woods and he taught her how to shoot. Then she aimed, and bam, she got a squirrel. She was elated until they got to the squirrel's body. Suddenly, as she watched it twitch its final twitches, as she watched the small gray thing breathe its last gasping breaths, the fun fell out of the day. She liked the killing fine. What she discovered she didn't like at all was the dying.

I'm not sure the young men who go into movie theaters or elementary schools feel that way. They seem to like the dying too, and maybe that's the problem. When did our culture change so much that people enjoy watching other living things die? More importantly, why did it change, and what can we do to change it back? Throwing all the guns in the world down a hole won't matter a bit until we can answer that question.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lights, Lights, Lights

I decided last week that I was perfectly capable of re-wiring a lamp. The lamp in question had one of those turny-type switches, as opposed to the clicky-type (you can see I'm very experienced in electrical lingo). The turny thing wasn't working right, so I went off to the store, bought a clicky-type replacement part -- perhaps my first mistake -- and got busy.

Nothing to it, I thought. I removed the non-functioning part, that which holds the light bulb, and replaced it with the new supposedly functioning part. I attached wires and tightened screws, then inserted the bulb. No problem! Then I plugged it in. I wouldn't go so far to say the lamp blew up, but it came close. Giant POP, sparks, smoke, etc. I screamed, jerked the plug out of the outlet, and threw the lamp on the floor, whereby the now blown bulb broke into a million pieces. As if that wasn't enough, now the outlet doesn't work anymore. Okay. Delete lamp re-wiring from my skill set.

Lights on the Christmas tree, however, are doing nicely. I do have one complaint: that the mini-lights now in stores seem to last maybe a year or two until one section of them blinks out with no explanation. I have strings of big lights that belonged to my mother. Mom has been gone 20 years, but those lights still work. Something is amiss in the Christmas lights manufacturing business.

Finally, bright lights are flickering on with our Sherburne Inn project. Local resident Steve Perrin has agreed to serve as our Project Manager, which brings a light to everybody's eyes around here. In the next few days we'll be posting Steve's credentials on the Sherburne Inn website. Stay tuned for more terrific volunteers stepping forward in the weeks to come.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Many Travels of An Egg Sandwich

I had to run out of town on Monday to do some banking and other errands. I took the dog with me because he's an agreeable passenger in the car and -- frankly -- mighty good company.

We listened to Christmas music on the radio, Harry and I, he perched on the center console, I bopping along in the driver's seat. After the bank we stopped at a convenience store for coffee. The place had one of those heated glass containers in which were little breakfast sandwiches and I bought one, having been smitten while inside with an insatiable urge for egg on an English.

I got back in the car and Harry went on full smell alert. I opened the wrapping and looked at the thing, "thing" being the only way to describe it: flat, smashed scrambled eggs on a limp muffin topped off with a piece of what appeared to be ham, except it was sort of green. I took a small bite and immediately spit it out the window. However Harry, who eats cat box deposits, wanted it. My answer to him was you can't have it, my reasons for saying no spanning so many levels.

Driving home I had other stops to make, so I put the sandwich in my purse rather than leaving it in the car to prevent Harry from getting at it. An hour or so later we returned home and, of course, I forgot about throwing the sandwich away. I tossed my open purse on a chair and didn't think about the green ham and eggs again until later in the afternoon. When I remembered and went to retrieve it, the wrapper was there but the food product was gone. If Harry had eyebrows they would have been raised, brown eyes cut to one side in feigned innocence.

Oh well, I thought. Hope he doesn't get sick.

At bedtime I went through the usual routine: teeth, face, lotion, nightgown. When I fluffed the bedding and climbed aboard there was the nibbled-at sandwich: under my pillow.

From heated glass container to car to purse to dog to bed and finally to trash can. It may not have been edible, but that flat-egg green-ham limp-muffin sandwich certainly was well-traveled. My question is this: how do these places get away with selling food that's isn't even good enough for a dog?

Save The Sherburne Inn Poinsettia Fundraiser

Friday, November 30, 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays ...Whatever

I'm curious about this "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" controversy. I keep seeing postings on Facebook where people insist we're supposed to say Merry Christmas to everybody, implying that somehow saying Happy Holidays is an insult. In fact, a few years ago I was in a local store and bumped into a high school classmate. I wished him a hearty Happy Holidays! and he jumped all over me. "It's MERRY CHRISTMAS!" he snarled. Oh. Hmm. I see, well yeah, you have a nice Christmas, pal.

At the risk of getting blasted here for "urban sensibilities," I lived in a place for a long time where not everybody celebrates Christmas. They do, however, celebrate many holidays at this time of year: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, and New Year's Eve and Day, to name just a few. I don't really want someone coming up to me and chirping "Happy Kwanzaa!" when I, not being Swahili, don't celebrate that particular observance. So what's so bad about saying happy holidays? It seems to me it's just a nice thing...to wish people a good time on whatever particular holiday they happen to observe. Folks aren't dissing Christmas when they say happy holidays. They're saying, at least from my perspective, "You go ahead and have a nice time in whatever it is you're doing this time of year." So I intend to continue my offering of "Happy Holidays!" and will risk the wrath of those who disagree. 

Speaking of the holidays, don't miss the 15th Annual Holiday Artist Sale at the Earlville Opera House from now until December 22. The sale is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm and Sundays from noon to 4pm. Beautiful handcrafted work from regional artists -- paintings, pottery, weaving, stained glass, metal, wood, quilts, cards, blown glass, jewelry, ornaments, soap, and much more. Remember: buying local is good for everybody.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November Musings

Christmas is four weeks away and I'm behind. Very behind. Not many gifts in hand, no decorations up but for some outside lights that I haven't yet turned on. The spirit, which usually hits me around June, wasn't kicking in. Then we got some snow over the weekend and I took a drive in the country. Bing came on the radio with White Christmas just as I spotted a few deer that had thus far avoided the hunter's bullet. And I felt a little kick. I guess all I needed were a few flakes and deep-voiced singer to start the engine. Now my mind is tick tick ticking: where is that garland, and how about Harry's reindeer ears?

Speaking of dogs, my friend Jackie lost hers this week. I remember when she brought Casey home: she was pregnant with her now 16-year-old son. Casey the dog, who the family (for reasons unknown to me) called Bo, was a ball of fluff, charging through life as a white streak with a fanciful smile on his poodle face. In his advanced years Casey would visit us in Sherburne, and my Harry, who is under the impression he's an attack dog when a pit bull passes by, seemed to understand his "cousin's" elderly condition. Harry was gentle, nudging a cataract- and arthritis-ridden Casey around the yard, never having known the old man in the spring of life. Jackie's beloved 17-year-old pet passed away on Saturday, on a pillow at home. We'll miss you, Bo.

Finally, Santa's elves have been to town...check out the lights at The Sherburne Inn. Elves were seen on Saturday scraping windows, setting up Christmas trees, hanging ribbon. I've always been a fan of the old expression, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

As I write this, I'm sitting on my sofa. The TV news is on (endless reports on pending middle east war and cheating generals), my Mac is on my lap, and my Blackberry is nearby, dinging with emails and texts.

It's time to draw a line in the sand.

First, though, we must face facts. I am a child of television. I grew up on the thing when the picture was tiny, black and white, and featuring wholesome boys and girls saying "Yes Ma'am" to vacuuming, pearl-clad, stay-at-home moms. I now own a dozen TVs -- little ones, big ones, flat screens, back-breaking older versions, and one (whose picture tube is blown) that was owned by my parents, a console too massive for even my strongest guy friends to haul out of my house. I am addicted to television: this monkey is on my back to stay.

Then there's the computer. Come on. I'm not giving that one up either, not when at my fingertips I have the world.

My Blackberry, however, is a different animal. Another computer, yes, but this one tiny and as haunting as siren song. Emails and texts not only appear on its mini-face, but announce their presence with metallic bongs, causing my eyes to drag away from other screens to see what vitally important associate is bothering me now (half the time the message is from an unknown someone advising me how to lose weight, grow hair, or enlarge body parts I do not have). Appallingly, of course, I can silence the Blackberry with the flick of a finger. I don't, though, not even at bedtime. Yes. The Blackberry follows me to the chamber of slumber. It is on my night table when I fall asleep, wakes me in the morning with its clock alarm, and is the first thing I reach for upon waking. Because I have to SEE who contacted me overnight, even if it's only the wife of a fallen prince letting me know funds have been deposited in my name at a bank in Tanzania.

I am a Blackberry addict.

So I've made a decision. I'm going to stop texting people so they'll stop texting me. I'm going to set the Blackberry on silent. I'm going check emails only during business hours, and I'm going to buy a regular alarm clock so I can leave this cigarette-pack sized, screeching prodding apparatus full of bits and bytes in the kitchen when I sleep. I will no longer be a slave to a contraption named after a piece of fruit!

Wait a minute, okay, sorry, I need to run...my Blackberry is vibrating...I guess I set it wrong...better find out if I'm a million dollar lotto winner, or if there's a new way to enlarge a body part I do have...  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Downtown Sherburne Gets A Little Bit Better

Sometimes the planets just line up, not in the fashion the doomsday folks are claiming they will on December 21, but in a good way.

I was wandering around Sherburne on Friday, doing a little Christmas shopping, and decided to stop in at the new store in town, Olde Village Mercantile (next door to China King). I'd heard that we had a new gift shop and wanted to say hello, welcome them to town, maybe pick up some stocking stuffers, etc.

What a pleasant surprise.

Walking through the door was like going back in time -- or maybe sideways -- in that I suddenly felt displaced somehow. I'd expected a brightly lit Hallmark atmosphere and found, instead, a peaceful respite from dollar stores and bargain basements. The colors were deep and rich, there was classical holiday music playing, the smells were of homemade candles, and the ambience, all in all, was delicious, full of soft lighting and beautiful hand-crafted merchandise. One of the three partners, Lee Blanchard-Excell, was behind the counter and it turns out (planets-lining-up-wise) that she is the great-grandaughter of the people who once owned my house. We chatted about her time spent where I now live, my house ghosts, and how this wonderful store ended up in downtown Sherburne.

Lee, along with her two partners Nicole Mullen and Jennifer Excell, opened a gift shop in Hubbardsville (Colchester Mercantile) in March of this year, and relocated to Sherburne in mid-October. The three have a passion for antiques and primitive decor, and admit they are happiest when being creative. "We always have our hands busy working on some sort of project," she says, "so it was a natural progression."

The truth of her words is obvious in touring the store. There are antiques, primitive and country home items, refurbished furniture, re-purposed "up-cycled" pieces, one-of-a-kind designs, small gifts, handmade soaps and toiletries, handmade candles, maple products, pieces from local artists, and much more.

When I asked her "Why Sherburne?" she answered quickly. "This is OUR community and we have a vested interest in the village. This is our home and we are privileged to share our dream with the people we have known and loved all of our lives." Lee is from Sherburne, and her partners are from Earlville. All graduated from Sherburne-Earlville school. Like others who appreciate the benefits of our small town, Lee, Nicole, and Jennifer felt a spot in Sherburne's downtown was an opportunity they just couldn't pass up.

Planets do line up indeed. Just at the time when local citizens are stepping forward to bring back the Sherburne Inn, a lovely gift shop opens a half block away. The future of Sherburne is bright when we have people like Lee and Nicole and Jennifer investing in our downtown with a beautiful shop like Olde Village Mercantile. I know I speak for many when I wish you great success, not to mention offering a big Thank You! for believing, as we do, that a revitalization of Sherburne's historic district can and must and will happen.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bright Lights, Small Town

I've lived full-time in this small town, my hometown, for two years this month. When I returned to the place my parents chose to raise me, I didn't know how ratcheting down from city life would go because, 24 months ago, I was thinking about the big stuff: movie star sightings, excitement, new possibilities around every corner, bright lights. Somehow, as I followed the moving trucks north, I forgot -- or maybe never even knew about -- the importance of the small stuff.

Halloween was on Wednesday. I don't have a guess how many kids came to my door in the hours between 4 and 8 p.m., though that I went through 15 bags of candy gives an indication. The streets were teeming with children, all costumed and polite and friendly and respectful. One fellow, maybe 13, was wearing black pants, a black leather jacket, and a jaunty cap. I asked who he was supposed to be and he answered quickly, "An '80s reporter." Best laugh I had all night. Who needs a movie star sighting when you've got comedians right at your front door?

There's an angel in my neighborhood, someone who for the past few weeks has, early in the morning on trash day, carted my garbage can from the sidewalk and placed it near the back step. Part of me wants to get up early and peer out the window to see who it is. Another part, the one that will win this curiosity tug-of-war, prefers to wonder. In Yiddish, an unselfish and anonymous gesture is called a mitzvah.  Thank you, whoever you are, for reminding me that a random act of kindness is plenty of excitement for me.

Finally, there are possibilities and corners. On a corner here in Sherburne, possibilities have been ignited. People from here and there and everywhere are raising hands and saying four little words: How Can I Help? Our quiet and historic Sherburne Inn will not be quiet for long because we live in a place where people care about their community. Soon activity will begin, windows will be scraped clean of vandals' paint, pigeons will be banished, and craftsmen and visionaries will step in with their skills. Plans are moving forward; come spring (if not sooner), restoration will begin.

I've come to discover that cities aren't the only places that are brightly lit. In this small place there is so much light: in our kids, in our kindness, and in the dazzling spirit of neighbors who will come together with heart and passion and dedication to turn the most meaningful of bright lights back on in a downtown institution.

I'm so glad I'm home.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frankensisters: The Update

We were so ready. We had food. We had water. We had brewed coffee in jars. My sister made spaghetti, I made muffins and hard boiled eggs. Garbage cans were in the carriage house, porches were cleaned off, lawn chairs stowed. Our flashlight batteries were new, the candle wicks unlit. Pat arrived with the dog and a bin full of storm supplies. By 4 p.m. we'd built a fire and were, as all the weather folks advised, hunkered down. Then we watched the fifth day of news and waited. For the rain to come, the wind to blow, the power to go out, the trees to fall. I checked my Blackberry and Facebook account repeatedly, getting reports from my friends in New Jersey and other points downstate. Manhattan was flooding, power was flickering out, the town in which I once worked on Long Island had swans paddling down the main streets. Sandy, according to the model, was headed our way.

Around 8 o'clock, the wind kicked up. Then died down. It rained a little. At 11, the treetops swayed, then settled. The roads in our county were closed in preparation for the storm of the century to plow through this small rural place 200 or so miles northwest of New York City. And...nothing happened.

The conflict of feelings was puzzling. We were relieved, of course, that the giant trees surrounding our houses didn't come tumbling down, that neighbors wouldn't have to face crushed cars in the morning. At the same time, we were........peevish, which my sister and I finally admitted to each other. Here we'd gone to all this TROUBLE to get ready and ended up with weather that, as Pat put it, was better than some days she'd spent on the golf course. Ridiculous but true: we were annoyed that Sandy had missed us.

Then I got a text message from my friend Liz, who once lived in Sea Bright, New Jersey, a lovely oceanside town with an ominous sea wall. Dear friends of hers lost their home. Not their car, not their roof, but their home

To all of those on the east coast who were ravaged by this storm, we in upstate New York are thinking of you today. As for the Frankensisters whose eyes glittered inexplicably at the prospect of experiencing a hurricane, we are utterly ashamed of ourselves. 

This afternoon I will eat some hard boiled eggs and be thankful.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Siblings are so interesting. As Frankenstorm lurches up the east coast, my sister Pat, whose profession should have been as meteorologist, is rubbing her hands together, almost gleeful in her reportage to me about the incoming weather system. She's like the TV people, who also have a strange glint in their eyes as they wave arms over heads and show us dire storm tracking maps. "An unprecedented event!" they howl, clearly not unhappy as they show us the European model vs. that of the U.S. "Who will be right?" they wonder, everything now a competition as international weathermen make their predictions, the most serious of which is that Hurricane Sandy will take a sharp turn west and collide head-on with a cold front from Canada and another system marching forth across the country, causing high winds and rain and possibly snow. East coasters, they warn, should be prepared for massive power outages.

I just got off the phone with Pat. Her concerns about the storm are practical ones. How will we make coffee if the power goes out? What about cooking? Does your gas stove work without electricity? (I don't know the answer to this but I'm thinking not.) We can wrap potatoes in aluminum foil and toss them on the fireplace coals, can we put canned food in a pot and do the same? We need candles, what if the power is out for a week? What then? If it gets cold I'll come to your house, we'll stay warm by the fire, we'll cook like the pioneers, we need batteries, what about the dogs?...and on and on.

I think none of these thoughts. If the power goes out for a week and I can't cook, I'll either slurp cold soup from a can or, better yet, take this opportunity to lose a few pounds. I have a special ratty oversized sweater I wear on snow days, and just this morning was pondering its location. Most importantly, though, I'm worrying about Halloween. I love Halloween, love to dress up and scare the kiddies as they knock on my front door. Will Halloween be ruined, ironically, by a weather event called Frankenstorm? 

I'm imagining the scene if the storm hits upstate New York with Halloween going forward as planned: I'll be in a witch outfit, twirling around handing out candy in the unlighted neighborhood. Pat will be in the back family room, trying to roast a chicken over glowing coals, in a bad mood from lack of caffeine. 

Siblings are so interesting. We're so similar in our mannerisms and shape of hands, our voices, our values, our history. But really, we're so different. Meteorologist Pat is preparing for The Perfect Storm. My only fear is that the kids won't show and I'll be slumped in a darkened room, candy bowl full, pointy black hat put away until next year.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Save The Sherburne Inn Website

Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project website is live!  Please visit at:


So many people have related personal stories about the Inn. Please go to the Memories link on the site and share yours.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saving The Sherburne Inn: Moving Forward

In just a week, much has happened. As reported here last Tuesday, a concerned citizens' group came together recently in an attempt to the preserve the Sherburne Inn, a central focus in our downtown. Current owner Jim Webb agreed to give us that opportunity. In spite of rumor and other reports, here's where we are:

- the citizen's group met, and is now known as Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project;
- we are in the process of forming a non-profit entity with a board of directors who will serve as stewards of the project;
- once the non-profit is formed, those who have pledged funds (and others who will do so in the future) may begin sending donations;
- a group of interested parties toured the Inn on Saturday, and the unanimous consensus was that the building is not, as many have claimed, "falling down." In fact, those present agreed that the structure is in remarkably good shape and has great possibilities.
- this week we will begin establishing volunteer committees; if you would like to serve on a committee, please email kyasas@aol.com with your interest area and contact information. To those of you who have already reached out, thank you. We will be in touch.
- we are also setting up a database of general volunteers. If you would like to volunteer in any capacity on this project, please send us an email; we will add you to our list and will call on you as the project develops.
- fundraising, of course, is under discussion. We have until April 1, 2013, to raise $155,000 to purchase the building. We have received strong support and are already a third of the way there in investment commitments. If you would like to be an investor in the purchase of the building, please contact us.
- we are in the process of developing a website, which will contain information about the project and the opportunity to donate through PayPal; when the website is complete, you will find the link on this blog.
- response from the community has been overwhelming. For example, a local barber, Wayne Murray, has offered to donate a dollar per haircut to the Save The Inn project. Tammy Sawyer, of Mountain View Gardens in Sherburne, has offered to host fundraising events at Christmas and in the spring. Many others have volunteered their time and skills, from plumbing and carpentry to picking up a broom. We are counting on other businesses and individuals to embrace this project as well with funds and fundraising, time, services, and support. We are evaluating a wide range of fundraising sources and welcome all ideas on how we can revitalize, restore, and reopen the historic Sherburne Inn.
- we are reaching out to all who have so generously shared their Sherburne Inn stories in the past few weeks and are asking you to send those memories to us by email (kyasas@aol.com), either in story or photo format (if you have photos that you are unable to email, we will make arrangements to collect, scan, and return). We are compiling a book of personal memories about this property because, as so many of us know, the Inn is not just brick and mortar: it has been a heartbeat of this community for almost 100 years.
- we believe that the ultimate success of the Sherburne Inn will be in a multi-use capacity, including but not limited to dining, retail, lodging, and events.

The Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project has been formed because we believe in the future of not only the building, but of our community. We do not want revisit the past: instead, we hope to preserve history while moving forward, both economically and in community planning. This is what small towns are all about...neighbors coming together, doing what they can in however small or large ways, and bringing about meaningful change that will affect the lifeblood of our village for generations.

Thank you in advance for all you can do in helping us save The Sherburne Inn.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sherburne Inn: Where We Are

One of my favorite movie lines, from "A League of Their Own," is when Tom Hanks is talking to Geena Davis about baseball:

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everybody would do it; it's the hard that makes it great."

But sometimes things just seem too hard. Things. Like moving forward, or believing in a cause, or doing what we feel is right even when others shout we're not. We contend with the naysayers, codgers who sit around and throw rocks at any idea because...well, truthfully I don't know why the rock-throwers throw. Is it because they really feel a project will be a failure, or is it because they want to see the project fail? Because, for some unfathomable reason, they enjoy watching other people do poorly since they themselves have accomplished so little?

I've said the following to many people in the last two weeks: My nickname, as a kid, was Stick-In-The-Mud, coined by my dad. Even as a child, when I was told I couldn't do something, I dug in. I said, "Oh really?" and forged ahead. Many times I succeeded, and sometimes I failed because, of course, everybody does. But what I never did was stop trying.

As reported on this blog last week, word came out recently that two historic buildings in my town were under threat of destruction, to be replaced by a convenience store and gas station. One of the buildings, the former Sherburne Inn, was causing most of the controversy. There were many sides to this issue. Some people said, "Good, that building is a mess and should be torn down." Others waffled: "Well, it's too bad, would be nice if the building could be brought back, but maybe progress is better." Still others, a group of which I was a part, said "No. Let's not knock down yet another historic building. Let's see what we, as a community, can do."

The owner of the building, Jim Webb of Sherburne, bought the Inn some years ago with the idea to renovate and reopen. And then, like so many of us, Jim felt the pinch of the economy. In the opinion of many, Jim has thus far saved the building from another person or corporation coming along and tearing it down. He was unable to bring to fruition his original plan and so the buliding has sat idle and dark, a sad reminder on the anchor corner of this village of just how hard times have been. Everyone on all sides of this issue agrees on one point: the Inn, in its current condition, is an eyesore.

Last week a group of concerned citizens -- preservationists all -- met with Jim to discuss the prospect of the Inn and its adjacent building being torn down. The meeting was civilized and productive. Each person present understood the perspective of others: Jim's financial interest coupled with his resistance to razing the Inn; and our interest in preserving, if possible, this historical though (at the moment) not terribly attractive structure. Thanks to our concern, Jim cracked open the door: he gave us a week to raise a substantial down payment, and until the end of the year to raise the rest to purchase both buildings. We tried to raise the down payment. Thanks to people in this village and those who don't live here but who still have a connection to Sherburne, we got close as the deadline arrived. But we failed.

On Saturday I met with Jim, a "hometown boy" who has, over the years, done much for this small village, both publicly and behind the scenes. He toured me through the Inn, which is indeed begging for restoration. It is not, however (as many claim), falling down. The building is made of poured concrete and brick, built nearly 100 years ago by men who tired of fires that claimed its earlier incarnations, beautiful wooden structures that in archival photographs show ladies and gentlemen in Victorian garb waving from gabled balconies. The Inn boasts 21,000 square feet, space for dining and guest rooms, a gift shop, a bakery, conferences and parties. It is a grand old building -- which as we confirmed days ago is listed on the National Historic Register -- that is sleeping, its transoms and antique doors and wood banisters and silent fireplaces waiting for the right hands to come along and breathe in new life.

Jim Webb is a fine man. He has considered the concerns of citizens this week, considered the importance of Sherburne's past, and in fact does not want to see the Inn demolished. On Saturday Jim made our group another offer, to buy the Inn for $165,000, which we have accepted. Jim also gave us first right of refusal on the adjacent former Big M property. Our citizens' group, with a $10,000 down payment, has until April 1 to raise the balance of $155,000 to purchase the Sherburne Inn. We feel this task can be accomplished, and as of spring 2013, if not sooner, the Inn will be ours. We are forming a consortium of investors and will operate the Inn under a board of directors. Our next task, a daunting one, will be to raise money to repair, restore, and reopen a thriving business on our four corners. The amount of money needed to restore has varied between experts: $1.5 million, $2 million, maybe more. The details of how we raise this funding is under discussion. The details of what the Inn will be like in the new millennium are being formulated, as is a date for the grand opening. There is much to do and much money to raise. We are launching a community project that will change Sherburne forever, and we in the citizens' group know we can count on our local leaders to assist us as much as they can. Downtown Sherburne's historic district, which includes beautiful old homes, significant buildings, and, in particular, the Pillow and Pantry Bed and Breakfast tenderly and inspiringly restored by Jim and Peggy Jeffrey, will come alive. I am not the only stick-in-the-mud who believes in the future of the Sherburne Inn. Other citizens of this community, and those of you who have pledged money and time and services to help us with this project, are all sticks-in-the-mud. We are digging in our heels. We will make this happen.

Thank you, Jim, for having your heart in the right place. And everyone who is reading this who cares about not just the Inn, but about history and about the future of our community, we need your ideas, your help, your time as volunteers, your fundraising efforts. To those of you who have so generously pledged funds, we will soon call on you to fulfill that pledge. More information on how you can contribute to this historic project will be forthcoming in the days ahead, so stay tuned. We have taken a giant step in the right direction. Now it's time to get to work.

And to the others, those who will tell us this project is too hard, try to remember this: it's the hard that makes it great.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Saving The Sherburne Inn: One Man's View

In the last week I've spoken to many people about the preservation of the buildings at the main corner of our village. Tonight I received the following email, which I have received permission to reprint. The sentiments of the writer are clear, and echo those of the other residents of Sherburne with whom I have spoken: 

"Ms. Yasas, hello. My name is Wayne Murray, the new barber in town. My shop is in the old mill building (red). I have been in business now for just for 1 month. I read your article in today's Sherburne News and was counting the minutes down 'til I got home and settled to write to you. I so AGREE with you on the issue of 'Save The Inn'.  

Being new in my business I don't know how I could help financially, but as for moral support I have plenty of that! I'm so against the LOOK of a convenience store in the middle of town.  I look at that when I go through New Berlin. (They tore down the Eagle Inn for a parking lot...sad.)

It seems in Chenango County the pastime is: Let's Tear It Down. Look at the issue with the 'Green House' in Norwich. I hope and pray that place on the corner of South Broad St. and Mitchell St.  STAYS empty for mega years. 'nuff said.

Question: The Sherburne Historical Society wants to build a $140,000 building. Why can't they raise this money for part of the INN to turn it into a museum? Just a thought there.  I too, would love to see the Inn come back to life.  But How? I would really love to move my barber shop under the Inn. My mother took me there when I was 3 or 4 yrs. old.  I still, to this day, 49 years later can remember walking down those steps.  I kid you not.  

There just has to be someone out there who can create a miracle for the Inn. Nothing would give me more pleasure that winning the lottery that I play 1x a week, A dollar and a dream thing, all I play..... to win it and to bring the Inn back and do wonders for my church. (Episcopal Church of the Epiphany)  

Please keep me posted on this issue of Saving The Inn as I am deeply interested.

Thank you and have a great day!

Wayne Murray
West State Barber"

Thank you, Mr. Murray, for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. There are many like you who believe the Inn is worth saving, and who feel a convenient store/gas station, while certainly convenient, might be more appropriate in another locale in town. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for your Lotto hopes, and for miracle-workers to save -- and restore -- our Sherburne Inn.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Sherburne Inn: It's Time to Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is

So one person said this: "I'll give you $50 this week, and $50 next, is that okay?"

Another said "I'll pledge $100, that's all I can do." Still another: "I'm working on a college account, but is $100 okay?"

These are the people of Sherburne.

I grew up in this town. I spent many hours at the Sherburne Inn, either at dinner, or at wedding receptions, or at the bar having a glass of wine. Everybody has a story, people who married there, or worked there, or had times there like I did, social gatherings where people met and talked and got to know each other a little better. The Inn, in its current incarnation, was built in the early 1900s, opened in 1915 (or by some accounts, 1917). Prior to that it was called The Sherburne House, a glorious wood building that burned twice, and was finally rebuilt of brick. The ghosts of the Sherburne Inn are many, spirits of people who lived and died in this town, who made money and who didn't; residents of a village that many of us call charming, a small place that breeds extraordinary people. Sherburne is a generous town, an historical town. And now, if progress has its way, Sherburne will lose The Sherburne Inn. If this happens it will not be a shame. It will be a tragedy, one that once the bulldozers hit ground, can never be reversed.

Forces are at work. The current owner has held onto this building, and the adjacent one -- a former grocery store -- for awhile. He is due the return on his investment. God bless. But does that mean that in place of historic structures we are left with a convenience store and gas station? Must we of this town be submitted to the blight of other small towns here and elsewhere, where gas stations and stale donuts in paper bags are the hallmark of our community? Must we become another crossroads where travelers fill their tanks and move on? If the forces have their way, that's exactly what will happen.

There are people who launched from this town about whom we can be proud. Clarence Gaines, horse man and dogfood entrepreneur. John Gaines, Clarence's son, founder of The Breeders' Cup. Charlie Palmer, premiere restauranteur. Mark Perrin, biotechnology CEO. Jim Hoefler, college professor. The Ulatowskis, the McDaniels, the Carriers. The list is endless and impressive. Lucille Ball visited the Sherburne Inn, as did Peter Falk. Richard Gere as a boy walked our streets when he visited his aunt and uncle. This town is historic. Our people are fine, giving, visionary. And yet now here we are, at the 11th hour, desperate to save yet another historic building and property from destruction. Desperate to save our town from  the ultimate failing. To put a convenience store and gas pumps in the center is tantamount to giving up. Our municipality has caved. Yes, it will bring tax revenue. And until midnight, every night, we will see the glaring bulbs of a place where kids on bikes will toss cigarette butts, where passersby will fill their tanks and move on to villages that care about their downtown.

I have a dream. To see an historic building on a corner full of light, full of people dining and talking and believing that something better is possible. A Cheers-type bar on the lower level, where once there was a barber shop featuring men who built our community. A place of a few beautiful suites furnished by local artisans. A restaurant featuring local organic food. Another floor where events are held...weddings and class reunions, sweet 16s, church socials, Sunday sundaes, Christmas balls, gatherings where people leave cell phones at home and go back to a time when folks dressed in their finery and came together away from glowing anonymous screens and Facebook. Do we have nothing left? Will we all now do nothing but fill our cars for no reason because we have no where to go, fill our tanks at ruined corner spots taken over by corporations and then stay home, watching mindless television? Wondering why the telephone doesn't ring?

Maybe I'm old. Maybe I'm wrong. But my god, is there anyone out there who feels like I do, that when history and fine old buildings are gone, when the history of our towns is gone, we are lost?

I can't give up yet. I have faith. But that faith is waning, and now I wonder: should I just sell my house and rent a condo in Florida until that town, too, falls to waste in a country that seems no longer to care?

Pledge to Save The Sherburne Inn. We need your help. Pledge at this email address and make a difference. Nothing may ever have been more important for our community. kyasas@aol.com. 

Save The Sherburne Inn

Dear friends,

It has come to our attention that the Sherburne Inn and the former Big M grocery store buildings are to be sold and torn down.  The buyer is set to put a convenience store and gas station on that corner in Sherburne.

Once again, Sherburne stands to lose yet another property to "progress."  The deal is going forward unless there is a counter-offer by Friday of this week .  The owner has stated that a non-refundable deposit of $150,000 will hold the properties until the New Year, by which time whoever offers that sum either comes up with the purchase price or forfeits the deposit.

The amount of the offer must be $425,000, which purchases both properties.  Beyond that, however, is what is the appropriate use of that property?  Neither building has been maintained well in the recent past.  The Inn has stood vacant for approximately seven years.  If we are to restore the Inn, the cost could be upward of $3 million.  An alternative exists, but it will not be easy.  Both buildings would need to be torn down and an architecturally pleasing hotel/ restaurant/event facility could be put in its place.  The cost to start from the ground up is more efficient, although the dollar amount will not be significantly lower.

A group of concerned citizens is forming a partnership, requesting that each investor commit $1,000 (or any combination thereof...5 investors at $200, 10 at $100, etc.). We are hoping, if the $150,000 can be raised this week, that ultimately 3,000 individuals will commit $1,000 to save these historic buildings, or in turn replace them with historically appropriate structures. The news of the buildings being sold and torn down is fresh, and time is very short. If there are enough interested people who will invest without demanding an immediate return, then Sherburne can have an Inn again, but we need to know by Friday whether or not this is possible.

This is a bitter pill for Sherburne.  It is happening everywhere in New York State, and indeed in our country.  If we are going to save Sherburne from becoming a crossroads where gas and beer are for sale on the anchor corner instead of a community with a beautiful heart, we have to act swiftly and decisively.  
Please email me at kyasas@aol.com with your pledge.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What Do The Critters Know?

I'm starting to feel like one of those oldtimers who sits on the front stoop with a toothpick in her mouth, scanning the sky for signs. "Yep," I can almost imagine mumbling. "Hard winter a-comin'. Them thar geese are a-flyin' in a snow pattern."

Of course I don't know the first thing about geese or if they even have a "snow pattern." But I have been noticing...things. There are the birds, starlings I think, that congregate every day at the same time in the big sugar maple out back and tweet furiously, tweeting, I might add, of the old-fashioned kind. They seem to be doing something important in bird world, like sounding an alarm. And I don't mean a couple of birds, I'm talking masses of them that would make Tipi Hedren's teeth rattle. Then there are the caterpillars. Over the summer, I noticed an abundance of white caterpillars with spiky black hairs outside my house, on the porch, and on the golf course greens. I've never seen this kind of caterpillar before. Finally there are the squirrels. They've been a busy bunch just lately, racing madly around the yard and sailing through treetops, gathering gathering gathering. This afternoon my faithful dog murdered one and deposited it at the back door like a little warning. See this fat, fluffy thing? Harry seemed to be saying, tail wagging and idiot dog-smile on his face. Hard winter a-comin'! 

I don't have a clue what the appearance of white caterpillars means, or for that matter why the squirrels are fat and busy or why I have a fowl symphony above my roofline. It was balmy today when I mowed my lawn in a tee shirt, and winter felt far away. Still, I keep scanning a cold blue sky with sharp edges. Autumn is here, preparing to kick summer out on her sorry behind. And there's this feeling that snow is coming. Lots and lots of snow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Preservationists: A Dying Breed?

I was thinking about the old octagon house over the weekend. The mansion, which stood majestically on the south end of my village until the mid-1960s, was an interesting piece of history here, both architecturally and otherwise. The web netted the following article about this beautiful home.

Sherburne, NY Octagon House, Corner of South Main and Chapel

May 16, 1965
Octagon House Doomed

An old octagon house, built by a Sherburne doctor a century and a quarter ago because he didn't like the howling of the winds around a conventional house, is about to fall before the bulldozers.

The house, now the property of the Sherburne Post of the American Legion and used by the group since 1946, has outlived it usefulness and will be replaced by a modern Legion Home more in keeping with the times.

The house was built just prior to 1840 by Dr. Devillo White, a well known "playboy" doctor of that day. Dr. White, who was disturbed always by the moaning of the wind around the cornices of other homes he had owned, determined that he would have a house built in such a manner as to do away with the wind noises that he detested. Such a house had been built somewhere in the Hudson Valley and plans were drawn, using the Hudson Valley mansion as a pattern.

The next task was to find workmen in the Sherburne area who could build an eight-sided house, and such buildings were a rarity in Central New York at that time.

The house is built of concrete, one of the first times concrete was used in wall construction in upstate New York. It has a circular staircase that ends in a "captain's Walk" in a cupola on the roof. When completed about 1841 Dr. White moved in, but history does not enlighten us in whether the architecture stopped the noise of the moaning wind.

Dr. White as a young man is depicted as being a "gay young blade" who lived life to the full in his village. His early life was spent in a hotel of questionable reputation owned by his father, Dr. Asa White, who later went west. Also, the young man had done his share in the sowing of the proverbial wild oats but he got hold of himself at the age of 23 and began to read medicine, as was the custom of the day.

He studied hard and soon outstripped his teacher, an older doctor in town. When he finally started to practice he didn't have the means, according to an old history, "wherein to buy a pair of saddlebags."

Always a "hail fellow and well met," Dr. White began to make and to spend money, and money seemed to mean little to him. The story is told of a poor minister who owed the doctor $75. The big-hearted doctor kidded the minister for awhile and then settled the whole bill for 50 cents.

All rooms on each floor of the octagon house open from the center hall and most are five-sided. The heating plant is steam, but the radiators, unlike any seen in this area, are made of copper. Some of the original wallpaper still clings to the rooms and much of the original carpeting is still in place.

Dr. White married Caroline Pratt, daughter of a leading resident of the village, about the time he began to read medicine. He was very popular and is said to have entertained lavishly.

Generous to a fault, he could not bear to see a family in need. Most of the poor and needy that he had brought back to health were not called upon to pay.

Dr. White was a staunch Whig, later embracing the Republican party. He had the knack of making money in investments and gathered together a fortune in government securities during the Civil War. It was Dr. White who presented the monument honoring Civil War veterans, which still stands in the center of the village.

The old octagon house of Dr. White is about to fall and with it goes a legend of the days before the Civil War, when people lived a more simple life, although they were building a nation.

Although I was a child when the octagon mansion came down, its unique pie-shaped rooms and spiral staircase and mahogany banisters reduced to rubble by "forward thinkers," I have heard for decades the laments of people who remember seeing it fall, and who believed that in spite of the more "modern building in keeping with the times" put in its place, the loss of the octagon house was a tragedy. Indeed, it is usually a tragedy when an historic building -- even if an impractical one -- is taken down because people do not have the vision nor the respect for history to save it. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Honest Day's Work

I was on an airplane over the weekend and just as we were landing, found somebody's forgotten Kindle Fire in the seat pocket in front of me. There wasn't much time for me to decide what to do: give the thing to the flight attendant and hope it gets returned to the rightful owner, or hang onto the reader and figure out who it belonged to and return it myself. At the last minute I took the latter course. At least if I took Jay's Kindle (the guy's name was Jay) I could maybe identify the owner and send it along.

I did indeed figure it out. The guy's email came up when I hit the ON button. I emailed him, he gave me his address, and I told him I'd Fed-x his Kindle out (which I did). What struck me was his response, which was this: "Thank you for being a good human." He also offered to pay for the shipping (I declined) and he also offered a "reward."

We live in such sad times. First, that I questioned the honesty of the flight crew, and second that doing the right thing -- returning an expensive piece of technology that didn't belong to me -- makes me a good human. Again, the Kindle didn't belong to me. Of course I'm not going to keep it. I'd like to think I'm among the many who would return someone else's property, but maybe not. Maybe somebody else would have said "Happy day! I've got a new Kindle Fire that I didn't have to pay for!!"

This isn't the first time the question of honesty has come up in my little world. A few years back I was driving with a couple of 20-somethings in the car. We stopped at Burger King and the drive-through girl gave me a dollar too much change. I counted, then returned the dollar to her. As we drove away the 20s both looked at me in amazement. "Wow, Kathy, you're honest!" they said. I looked at them and scowled. The dollar, I said, didn't belong to me. What the hell is wrong with you two??

Sometimes I think the question of honesty these days has to do with the worth of the luck. That is, if it's a dollar, it doesn't really matter if you give it back. After all, what's a buck? So keep it, or give it back. Whatever. And if it's a Kindle Fire worth a hundred dollars, well maybe you should return it because of the price tag, or maybe you should keep it, tough darts on the guy who lost it because he should have been more careful, and now yippie skippie, I have a new Kindle! What if it was five hundred dollars, or a million? In my head, it doesn't matter if the item or the money was worth ten cents. The fact is, this was a dime (or a C-note or a fortune) that came to me without effort. I didn't earn it. And in the end, the windfall, however small or large, just isn't mine to keep.

There's a movie called The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage and Don Cheadle. Nick is having some sort of other-worldly experience about learning the meaning of life and Don is a helpful angel. Don is working as a 7-11 cashier and intentionally gives a teenager the wrong change (to her benefit) to see how she'll react. She happily takes the money and slips out of the store. Don shakes his head sadly and says something like this to Nick: "She sold her soul for nine dollars."

I guess the spirit of Don's line of script is what bothers me...that people are willing to sell their souls for so little, or for that matter, that they're willing to sell their souls at all. Being honest isn't about getting rewards or getting accolades for being a good human. Being honest should be something we do naturally. It never even occurred to me to keep Jay's Kindle. My only concern was wondering how he would ever get it back if I handed his property over to the flight attendant, who for all I know would have done the same as I: looked up his email and sent it along. I want to believe people are basically honest. But are they?

In one of our correspondences Jay said thank you thank you, and that he would pay my honesty forward. I hope he does. I hope my $20 investment in shipping this man's Kindle Fire along triggers a string of good honest stuff. I want to believe my tiny act of doing the right thing makes others do the same. I want to believe that, in the end, we're all good humans.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Things That Are Bugging Me

-That the heart, liver, and gizzard inside a store-bought chicken didn't originally come with that particular bird
-Elizabeth Hasselbeck
-Saying thank you when I buy something at the store. Shouldn't they be thanking me?
-My declining eyesight
-The pain in my knees
-The cats' yowling for no apparent reason
-Fox and Friends
-That I have to clip my toenails
-The decline of the incandescent bulb
-The news that Blackberry is going down (I have a Blackberry, my third: so far they've all sucked)
-The ever-annoying aspects of menopause
-That every photo I've taken in the last five years hasn't been printed
-That I rarely go to the movies
-Endless cleaning of the house
-People who mow the lawn at 7 a.m.
-Unseasoned wood
-Static cling
-Changing batteries in clocks
-Drug addicts, and that these are the people who will take over some day
-Bad English
-Postings on Facebook about kittens, puppies, God, and grandchildren
-Cheap candles
-Slow computers
-That limbs from the big tree behind my house keep falling into the driveway
-And people who complain, of which...apparently...I'm one

Monday, September 17, 2012

Royally Nekked

There's been all sorts of hullabaloo this week about European magazines releasing photos of a topless Kate Middleton, newest member of the royal family. Kate and her husband, Prince William, were apparently on vacation at a private residence in France and were zoomed in on by paparazzi with a long lens. "News" outlets are chattering (I put "news" in quotes because, seriously, is this really news??), Buckingham Palace is angry that the photos were released, and the French are shrugging whatever and pointing fingers at countries that think being naked is a bad thing while talk show hosts are tsk-tsking about a lack of privacy in today's world and making comparisons between Kate and the unfortunate Diana, who came to a bad end while pursued by photographers in a Paris tunnel.  

To those who are chirping about a lack of privacy, have you been under a rock for the past ten years? People can now take pictures -- and videos -- on a gadget they carry around in their pockets. Facebook lets us know when others are going to the store, to the doctor, to the bathroom. Kids are in perpetual communication via texting. Somebody's dog barks and they put it on Youtube. There are sixty dozen "entertainment" programs on TV that let us know every move every celebrity makes, complete with quotes, photos, film, and comments from anybody with fingers and a keyboard. The entire world has become a small town beauty salon where everybody knows what everybody else is doing every minute of the day. Gossip is our god.

So to Kate and the chagrined Brits...come on, folks: take a reality check. If you're a public figure (which you most certainly are, Princess), topless sunbathing in private or not is a risk. That you're shocked by a photographer with Star Trek-worthy equipment is naive and ridiculous. You signed on for this life when you got married, and as long as there are media outlets paying for celebrity images, you're a target. And here's a tip: there's nothing easier than preventing your naked self from being in the public eye...keep your royal clothes on.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


On Wednesday I was driving down a country road behind a stream of cars led by a school bus. It was a knockout day: blue sky, fading green September fields. The bus stopped and so did we all, waiting for the kids to climb out to waiting mothers.

To my left, on the grass about ten feet from the open door of the bus, was a big black lab. He was hunkered down and watchful as the children in new fall clothes came down the steps. It was a still life: two dozen cars stopped in both directions on the highway, a big orange bus, tykes with backpacks, brilliant sunshine, and this gleaming dog, waiting for somebody he loved to come home.

Then like moments do, this one broke apart. Moms scurried with their kids across the road, red bus lights were turned off, and cars started to crawl forward. The child, maybe some 12-year-old behind whom the dog trailed all summer up hills and down creeks, never showed. The bus doors closed and the dog stood up, seemingly undisappointed, and wandered off toward a nearby house. Maybe the kid stayed after school, or maybe there was no kid at all. Maybe it's the dog's habit: checking out the school bus at 3:30, musing in his doggy way: What's this about? before going back to his master for a treat.

In the category of Life Is A River, a cable guy came by today to resolve some issues with my DVR. As he was leaving, he apologized for being on the telephone earlier. "It was the ex-wife," he said. "My dog died this morning. A black lab. Hit by a car. He's in my back yard; I need to go home and dig a hole for him."

My insides seized up. I told the cable man how sorry I was. Then I picked up my Harry and hugged him tight, hoping the school bus dog was okay, chasing butterflies or snoozing somewhere in the sun.

They steal the heart, these dogs, and love us so true; four-legged things with noses wet and eyes brown and ever-wagging tails.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stay The *bleep* Out of My Purse!

I was watching a golf tournament over the weekend and one of the players -- Dustin Johnson -- hit his ball into a lady spectator's pocketbook, which was followed by lots of chuckling from the commentators. The spirit of their conversation was this: "Doesn't Dustin know? You never go into a lady's purse."

There's this odd understanding people have about poking around in a woman's pocketbook. Women, myself included, are often heard to say "Hand me my purse" when somebody asks for a nail file or dollar bill. Rarely do I hear one of the sisterhood say "The file (or whatever) is there in my purse, just dig around until you find it." Purses, for some reason, are off limits to everybody except the owner.

Several years ago I scaled down my handbag situation. I used to lug around a gigantic leather tote, a throwback I think to the days when I worked in Manhattan. I had no car, and everything I might need in an 8-hour day needed to be at hand, or in this case, on shoulder. No longer working in that environment, it seemed appropriate that I reduce the dimensions of the carry-all. My purse now is a small thing, about the size of a narrow football. Very sensible. Very manageable.

Dustin's errant golf shot reminded me it was time to clean out said purse. Here's what I found:

-Savings account book (sensible)
-Checking account book (also sensible)
-Wallet (good)
-Comb (ok)
-Brush (well, maybe overkill as there's a comb in there)
-Another brush (uh-oh)
-Crumpled deposit slips from August...and June...and January
-A gel-style luggage tag
-A very used tissue
-A tube of mascara
-An eyeliner pencil
-Four pens, two non-working
-An old-fashioned pill box with six crumbled and aging aspirin
-A tiny vinyl bag containing a handy fold-up satchel that I've never used because I'm afraid if I unfold the handy satchel I'll never get it back into the tiny vinyl bag
-Silver sparkly contact lens holder for contact lens case
-Two business cards, one for the local bank and another for The Trophy Guy
-An elastic ankle brace
-A container of L'Oreal New Bare-Naturale Gentle Mineral Powder 
-One gold hoop earring
-A tube of lipstick
-A ten dollar bill
-Four dollars and fifty six cents in change
-A roll of quarters
-A stack of my own business cards bearing the address and phone number of an office I left two years ago
-My cell phone charger
-My cell phone bill
-A mysterious wire that maybe goes to a computer
-Three empty matchbooks
-A tealight candle
-A reminder card from the dentist that I had an appointment in July
-The dog's license tag
-And three golf balls, none of which was deposited there by a professional golfer

There's a good reason women don't let people into their purses. The word would get out that we're all nuts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pro-Choice v. Pro-Life: A Very Slippery Slope

Abortion is such a hot-button issue that for the past year and a half of writing this blog, I've avoided it. But in this election climate, after hearing political figures talk about "legitimate rape," after realizing that women fought and won this battle nearly 40 years ago, and after watching the Republicans in Tampa and the Democrats in Charlotte, I think it's time.

When I was a young teenager, my mother sat me down and told me a story about a woman she knew. The woman, who I'll call Stella, had a daughter who'd become pregnant. In those days, abortion was illegal. Stella's daughter, desperate, made the only choice she thought she had. She chose to have what was commonly called a "back-woods abortion," performed by someone who maybe was a doctor, who maybe wasn't. I don't remember if my mother told me that part of the story, don't remember if my mother even knew. In the end it didn't matter. Stella's daughter died. The point of my mom telling me the story was this: she asked me not to have sex too soon, but said if I did, and if I got pregnant, to come to her and my father, that they would help me. She begged me not to get a back-woods abortion. She didn't beg because she wanted to save a grandchild not yet conceived; she begged because she wanted to save my life. Because in those days, opting for an abortion was a matter of life and death.

That sit-down with my mother never left me. I did in fact have sex sooner or later (specifically, in 1974 while in college), and was very careful about it. I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood, had my first gynecologic check-up, discussed sexual intercourse with my doctor, opted for birth control pills as my method of contraception, and waited four weeks (as instructed by the package insert) before my first encounter.

The year before, in 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the Supreme Court, making abortion legal with certain stipulations, those having to do with "viability" of the fetus. If I had gotten pregnant in those early days, there would have been no back-woods abortion for me. I could have gotten a legal abortion because the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion, again, balanced by the mother's health and the ability of the fetus to live on its own, albeit with artificial aid. My decision to be careful about getting pregnant had nothing to do with the law, however. I didn't get pregnant because my mother's words were there in my head. Still, that legal abortion was in the background, that I had a choice if my boyfriend and I made a mistake, was a positive. If I'd slipped up and gotten pregnant while a freshman in college, would I have had an abortion? I can't answer that question definitively, not now when the last ship of my fertile eggs has long since sailed. But in truth, if I'd been pregnant at 18? Probably. My choice. If I'd gotten pregnant at 35, and was healthy, and was set to have a healthy baby? Absolutely not. Again: my choice.

Getting older changes the way the mind works. I've become more conservative, I'm tough on welfare benefits and am frustrated when that system is abused, all the while understanding there are legitimate cases when the poor need help. I'm angry at the entitled young, who feel they're somehow too good to work at menial jobs, or who quit fine jobs because "they aren't having fun." I expect young people to do what I did: work hard even when it isn't fun, pay taxes, contribute to society, and carve out a future, like I did. That future of mine, as it turned out, didn't include children. Not an "oh how sad" situation, but another choice I made. When the big clock started to tick in my late thirties I realized I didn't have the maternal drive that many women do. Now, as a fifty-something sorta conservative non-mother, my opinion about abortion remains the same. It should be legal, with certain balancing stipulations. Because in America, women should have a choice.

I have never had an abortion and do not believe in it. I mean seriously, does anybody actually believe in abortion? What I do believe in my heart -- and know for a fact in many cases, as I have friends who have had abortions -- is that no woman takes lightly the decision to terminate a pregnancy. It's an agonizing option, for the 17-year-old bound for college, for the 30-year-old who can't afford a family, for the 42-year-old whose health is threatened by childbirth. These women are not "pro-abortion." They are women who have a legal right to make a decision about their own body and their own life. Is the mother's life and how she decides to live it not just as important as the collection of cells growing in the womb? 

As a person who is pro-choice, I object to the concept of the so-called pro-life movement, which implies those of us who are pro-choice are somehow also pro-abortion or, worse, pro-death. Pro-lifers wave signs around bearing frightful photos of mangled babies. Politicians shriek that's those of us who are pro-choice are baby killers. Doctors who perform abortions have been shot dead...by those who proclaim to be pro-life and on whom the irony of such actions is lost. Smoking is a killer, but it's legal. Alcohol is a killer, but it's legal. Legal prescription drugs are killing people every day. To smoke or drink or take pills is also our choice, by law. And no one is waving signs about that. Some will say that's because smoking or drinking or pills are not a direct "murder" of the unborn. But that's just the point, isn't it? A fetus, and certainly one in the earliest stages, is unborn. And as a fertility doctor said to me years ago, life doesn't start at conception: it started millennia ago.

It has been only a few decades since medical science enabled us to "see" the fetus, and as technology progresses we can see even more clearly its early development -- the tiny head, a wee heartbeat. Interesting, yes. However, this collection of cells, no matter how microscopically fascinating, is just that: a collection of cells. I personally don't know any pro-choice person who subscribes to late-term abortions, when babies are viable on their own. In fact, I don't know any pro-choice person who subscribes to abortions at all. What we subscribe to -- and believe is our right -- is to have the choice to make the decision about a collection of cells that cannot live on its own, and about our own lives, which are important, too. Maybe more important, some might say.

Abortion is a complicated issue involving mothers and fathers and family and religion and politics and regret and frustration on all fronts. I'm happy I never had to make such a hard decision and feel sadness for those who have. Still, I cannot be convinced that it should not be a woman's choice, just as it is her choice to cut off a finger if she sees fit. Is having an abortion or cutting off a finger a good choice? Who can say? That's what choices are all about; they set us on a road that is all our own. And it is a slippery slope when politicians or churches or the rabid few begin to dictate what road we should travel.

As a final aside: I find that most of those who disagree with me about being pro-choice are men. I wonder what would happen if scientists were to discover that sperm contains a little heartbeat and tiny feet. I wonder...would these same men pass a law that masturbation...that biblical no-no of spilling one's seed upon the earth... should also be illegal?

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum