Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grabbin' some air

Sunday morning before work and my 4½-year-old son is unwrapping the cellophane from his new skateboard.
His former skateboard met a quick demise — not at his hands, or feet rather, but the neighborhood boys.
Y left his board down the street at a friend’s house overnight, forgotten. The next morning it was cleanly broken in half. My husband thought it the work of some neighborhood hooligans, I envisioned someone trying to jump the curb and it snapping on the axis point.
So Y's got a SpongeBob SquarePants board now, K-Mart’s finest.
And he’s demonstrating to me how to do a kickflip, then an ollie, an 180 and 360. Y adds in a couple of other tricks he says his dinosaur taught him (imaginary friend alert): the flower, the grass and the toe-twister. All these are of increasing difficulty, all end with a tumble over the concrete sidewalk onto our lawn, with Y subsequently scrambling up unscathed.
(He’s our little stuntman-in-the-making.)
Y’s fascination with the skateboard began when he was just under a year old and I would prop him up in my window at work, in the former Middletown Press building on Main Street (since demolished). We had quite a view from the second floor of the neighborhood skateboarders down below who often used our stairway as a jumping ground and gathering place. Every day around 2 p.m. I’d hear the crack of wood and wheels on concrete, as jump after jump was perfected.
One day at age 3, Y ran home after being at work with me and grabbed his older brother’s never-used skateboard from the cellar, then proceeded to replicate the moves he’d witnessed on our wood floors. It was so cute we let him continue.
Almost two years later, it’s not so cute — or harmless — in the living room anymore.
So, he’s been relegated to the sidewalk outside our house, where boys and teens whiz by on skateboards and waveboards, showing each other the tricks they’ve learned.
One funny scene unfolded while I was sitting on a yard chair knitting, keeping an eye on things.
A 10-year-old boy watched Y work his board, then asked, “Can you do an old-school pogo?”
“What’s that?” Y asked.
K put the board perpendicular to the ground, stepping on the lower set of wheels with both toes, then hopped vertically three or four times.
“Sure I can!” Y piped, and proceeded to replicate it exactly.
About an hour later, the boy had drifted off to other neighborhood activities.
Three boys walked down the sidewalk toward me, carrying their boards, the oldest in the lead, followed by younger and younger boys.
Y silently brought up the rear, unknown to them.
“Hey, looks like you guys have an honorary member of your skateboarding team.”
They looked back, then laughed.
Then they all stopped to hang out.
Y started doing his patented jumping-on-the-board-then-ollie move.
“Hey, Y! How the heck are you doing that?” one boy yelled.
Y proceeded to show him. No one could replicate his spritely move.
“Hey guys, look at this!” he yelled. “This is an old-school pogo!”
The kids were fascinated, then proceeded to try the trick out for themselves.
No wonder he wants to keep up with the big boys.
He admires them.
And they’re starting to return the favor.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All good things must come to an end

Back in 2002, shortly after I was named the editor of The Middletown Press I was asked to be the speaker during a lunchtime Rotary Club meeting here in the city. So despite my profound fear of public speaking, I did my duty and talked about the future of journalism, the future of this paper and took plenty of questions from the audience.

I believe the second question I was asked (the first being "when is The Press going back to an afternoon paper?") was how long I planned on being here. The paper had been through quite a rough patch when it came to editors, I believe the average lifespan had been 8 months.

One former reporter once told me that in 8 years she worked under 12 editors - and that was after I had been at the paper for a few years already.

I answered the question as honestly as I could -- I was happy to be back at my hometown paper and I had no intentions of moving on in the near future.

Now I can give a more definative answer -- I would be editor at The Press for 6 years and 2 months.

I've been offered the opportunity to work with my current publisher to launch a new publication -- an opportunity and a challenge that I'm extremely excited about. But leaving is also very bittersweet.

I grew up reading this paper - I looked for my name and the names of my friends and family in Fred Post's old column -- Keeping Posted. There are scrapbooks either at my house or my parents that have clippings from The Press sprinkled throughout -- honor rolls, sports stories, scholarship announcements.

The readers of this paper gave me support and encouragement during the time when I learned Nikki would be born with Down syndrome as well as a heart defect. They prayed for her when she had her open heart surgery and they celebrated when she came through that surgery with flying colors. The notes and cards I received during that time are still much cherished.

And the readers who so graciously welcomed my work into their home were never shy about telling me what I could do better. Sometimes the criticism was harsh, but I did learn something from each and every person who ever contacted me.

There are too many people to thank for me to list them all but to all the past and current staff at The Press, it has been a true honor putting out this paper alongside you. The process really is "a daily miracle."

I'll still be blogging here alongside Cassandra and the two of us are sure to have plenty of adventures to write about this fall as Nikki and T both head off to Kindergarten (and we both have serious pangs about our "babies" growing up).

To the readers of The Press - two final words -- Thank You.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Verena arrives stateside

My husband picked up a knitting magazine for me the other day at the supermarket. Billed as “Europe’s top knitting magazine,” Burda’s Verena Knitting has been published for years, but only this summer is available in the United States with sizes and needles for American enthusiasts.
Patterns are grouped by fashion style — direct from the runways. There are “Ahoy There!” nautical-inspired, “Back in Khaki,” safari-style, “Sorbet Coolers,” fruit-colored tanks, “In the Red Zone,” and children’s sweaters. I’m especially enamoured of the tank tops: thick-strapped lime-green and ribbon v-neck in lemon yellow.
Check it out for yourself at www.verenaknitting.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

1, 2, 3, 4 ... 9 A Day

Remember back when the Food Pyramid urged us to consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day?
When my older son was a toddler, Dole sent me a compact disc at work with catchy tunes for children promoting the government’s then 5-A-Day campaign. I can still hear the strains in my head (“One, two, three, four, Five A Day, that’s the fruit and vegetable way ... ”).
In fact, the CDC now asks Americans to shoot for nine servings a day. At www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov, there is a handy calculator that tells you, based on your sex, age and level of physical activity, exactly what you should aim for.
My goal should be 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. Not as impossible a goal as “9 A Day” sounds.
By that measurement, the pint of native blueberries I purchased this morning at the Middletown Farmers Market will fill my day’s requirement of fruit.
And do I love berries.
What a boon are the summer months to those of us who love fresh and local produce. No pesticides or waxes mar their unique beauty and taste. Tomatoes are often “ugly” by grocery store standards and the prices are a bit higher than you’d find at a supermarket, but I’m willing to pay that for something rarely found in these mass markets — flavor.
Can you remember the last time a grocery store tomato wasn’t pale and mealy tasting? How about a peach that’s succulent and intense?
Today, the farmers market opened on the South Green, across from where the old Middletown Press building stood. It runs every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon until October. Gotta’s Farm of Portland and Killam & Bassette Farmstead of South Glastonbury staff were among those manning the table, offering just-picked spaghetti squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peaches, cherry peppers, green beans, corn, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, plums and blueberries. Homemade jars of jam stood in neat little lines. Linda Rumsey’s Sweet Memories of Portland offered her pies, scones, lemon bars, fruit and nut breads and pastries.
Tonight we’ll enjoy the early ears of corn with butter and sea salt. My son will love fat slices of heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. I’ll have to “steal” a sprig or two of basil from the neighbor’s garden to complete this simple appetizer.
Fuzzy peaches will ripen in a brown bag on my counter, then delight my preschooler’s unending lust for fruit.
I eyed the zucchini for purchase on Thursday for the sweet bread my husband loves made with real butter and walnuts.
Sorry guys, the blueberries might not make it home tonight. I saved those fatties for myself. I can always nab another pint in a couple days.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Now we're cooking

A few months ago I switched shifts, going from 9 to 5 to more of a second shift 2 to 10. The change came about when my husband's new job caused him to change his hours. And while it's nice to be at home in the morning with the kids, it created a bit of a problem -- dinner.

The crock pot and the timed start on my oven are becoming my friends, but I've felt like I've had my family in a bit of a dinner rut. Something chicken one night, pasta another, pork a third, then quick and east options such hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and pizza rounding out the choices. And within those catergories my reportoire was a bit limited. (When I was making dinner I would often "throw" something together using what was in the cupboard so I didn't always plan out dinner).

I started looking for new recipies shortly after I changed shifts as well as looking for good ideas for make-ahead meals. I hit paydirt with Diane Phillips' "You've Got it Made: Deliciously easy meals to make now & bake later." Its 150 recipies cover everything from appetizers to desserts.

Even better it includes a list of all the ingredients that are used in the book's recipies in the first few pages, with the idea being that if you have those items on hand you can make any recipe in the book.

The big test for any cookbook is if I can actually find more than three items that I can make for my family. After all I have a 1-year-old, a nearly 5-year-old and my husband to please (oddly it's often the husband that perplexes me the most) as well as my own desire to make something that tastes good and is healthy.

There are plenty of items that should please all (and here's where I knock wood and note that I've been blessed with two not so very picky kids and two kids who don't object to spices and flavors) -- penne, sausage and meatball bake, pesto ravioli bake, arroz con pollo casserole, French toast cobblers, various enchilada and strata recipies, pot roast, stuffed pork tenderloin, oven-fried chicken, chicken cacciatore, pot pie, do-ahead mashed potatoes, eggplant rollatini, fruit crisps, and log cookies all make the short list.

Each recipe is divided into two parts -- make it now and bake it later -- and include refrigeration and freezer time limits. The instructions are easy to understand and none of the ingredients are outlandish.

Happy eating.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pro-cras-ti-NA-tion (sung to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Anticipation”)

I finished another project last week: the Frock Camisole from Interweave Knit’s Knitting Daily (free pattern at www.knittingdaily.com/blogs/patterns/archive/2008/04/11/frock-camisole.aspx). The yarn is Red, Gold, Beige #8 Cinnabar by Louise Harding, but I knit mine in #10 Light Blue.
It took me a couple of months to complete, mostly because the stitches are on a size 7 needle.
After weaving in the ends, I tried it on my dressmaker’s model: my almost-5-year-old son. That way I can see what it looks like from all angles, and he’s happy to oblige as long as I am quick. I’m happy to say it would make a lovely little girl’s dress — all you need to do is make shorter straps.
Now I feel a little lost. I’ve picked up my long-term (read: never to be completed) shawl project in light brown cotton. But I feel antsy, restless. Without a real focus. I do have another project waiting upstairs in my knitting area: it’s an ecru sleeveless mercerized cottong sweater with a twist at the bust and cables in place of seams. It was georgous when I saw it in lavender at the Yarn Garden in Meriden (www.yarngardenllc.com), on a softly padded hanger at the rear of the store. Everything is ready in a little bag — even the pattern so graciously given to me by owner Denise Edson is already laminated. It’s all ready to go.
But I’m not.
The lazy, hazy days of summer have made me an equally lackadasical knitter. Not that I’m NOT knitting anymore, just less aggressively, less fervently. I’m wet and sweaty when I get home and it’s hard to get comfortable in my favorite spot on the couch, under the floor lamp.
Maybe tonight’s the night.
Thunderstorms are supposed to roll in and cool us off for a spell.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

mmmmmm cake

My mother-in-law and niece collaborated on a small birthday cake for James during the 4th of July picnic (his actual birthday party will be a little later this month). It was very cute -- white and blue icing with sugar candy bugs dancing along the sides.

James looked a little confused at the cake and candle sitting before him while everyone sang, but the confusion ended once a slice was placed in front of him. He picked up a little piece with his fingers and tasted it. One small taste was all he needed because he dove right into it.

Face first.

And when we all laughed he did it a second, a third and even a fourth time.

It was one of those classic, classic first moments.

When he has his actual party later this month, I'm hoping for a replay and this time we'll be ready with the video camera.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

All the world's a stage

It began with a simple request.
"T, can you bring this out to the garbage can?" I asked, while cooking breakfast for the family this Fourth of July.
"OK," he said, in his sing-song way, always eager to help out with a task.
But the bug had taken hold.
T brought the blue recycle bin to the curb.
Then he dragged the plastic garbage can, huffing and puffing, his chicken-bone arms straining, toward the sidewalk.
I peered out of the living room window, a voyeur, intently watching this scene unfold.
To ask, "what the heck is this kid doing," as probably every neighbor is, is a mute question. You don't wonder about what T is working on. Just like B, when he was 4, the boy's machinations are part of the mystery of the universe. We can only watch.
Next up are the concrete blocks at the back of our property, earlier broken up into fist-size pieces with a hammer.
Ever the thinker, T fills up his large truck bed with five or six of these "rocks" at a time, rolling the load toward the street. Each one is lobbed into the trash.
"You can't throw those out in the trash," I yell, half-heartedly.
T ignores me.
I'll fix it later, as I always do with so many of this kid's projects.
Oh, here come the wooden planks from the back yard, each leaving an impression in the dirt alongside the house, a giant snail's trail.
T scampers into the house, looking for more garbage bags.
He pulls two brown bags from the drawer.
"I got a lot more stuff here - gotta fill these up," he says.
I let him continue, filling the bags with cut grass, twigs, little rocks.
Finally he's done.
"I gotta rest," he says, clamoring onto the sofa.
"Mom, I need a little help over here. Can you get me a drink?"
As I fill his glass with apple juice, I marvel at what I've created. And watch his skinny, brown-from-the-sun body reach toward my proffered drink, gulp it down voraciously. One drip dribbles down his chin, then the center of his chest.
Oops, I'm needed, I think, grabbing a towel.
And wait for the next scene to begin.