Thursday, December 25, 2008

pretending to be a mag writer at our weeklies

...With Boughs of Holly: LHS agri-science students host holiday decor workshop

The afternoon before Thanksgiving this year, a friend’s mother sent her on a hunt for seasonal accessories to spruce up the dinner table, leading to a frantic quest for miniature pumpkins. When area stores failed her, she made fall-colored candy bundles and resolved to plan further ahead come Christmas.

A brief afternoon at Ledyard High School last week would have solved her seasonal decorating angst. Horticulture teacher Shelly Roy and four students made Christmas decorating look simple, during a recent gift box centerpiece workshop.

This is the second year Roy has offered seasonal decoration lessons. Those in the know—mostly faculty and parents of agri-science program students—are repeat attendees who made floral cornucopias to adorn Thanksgiving tables last month. The workshops are so popular, Roy offers two sessions.

The featured Christmas centerpiece was a hollow red glass cube criss-crossed by festive ribbon to suggest a gift-wrapped parcel, with three types of white flowers and a bow arranged on top.

“It’s simple, it’s easy, very quick, and it goes together,” Roy said. She found the idea in an issue of Florists’ Review magazine but spruced up its institutional color palette when she interpreted it for the workshop.

Participants began by sticking greens around the base of the wet block of flower foam sitting in the empty cube. They cleaned all of the leaves off the bottom tip of each piece so it stuck cleanly into the foam. They added the large spider mums and then the smaller flowers.

Student helpers, thrilled at the opportunity to teach their teachers, ensured the different plants were spaced with aesthetic symmetry at slightly different heights, keeping the whole visually interesting but also pleasing to the eye.

“What do you think is wrong with it?” senior Jessica Senphansiry asked Susan Rhorer, gesturing to her
flowers. As the subsitute teacher watched, Senphansiry deftly thinned out one section of the arrangement and tightened another.

“What’s really neat is seeing how the kids can teach,” Roy said, echoing several of the teachers there.

Everyone finished the craft by fashioning a four-loop bow from the ribbon and attaching it to a small wooden pick with wire. The pick landed in the center of each arrangement with the loops and end of the bow folded among the flowers. Then, in a brief hour, 10 happy teachers paraded off with homemade decorations that, Roy assured them, would remain vibrant through the holidays if watered and kept in a cool location.

And if their houses were too steamy, she said, everything needed to make the centerpiece can be purchased at a craft store and filled with flowers from the supermarket.

Make Your Own
Gift Box Centerpiece


1 6-inch glass cube

2/3 brick of floral foam

Greens (like some fir or spruce)

Three stems of white spider mums

Two stems of white cushion mums

Four stems of white carnations

1 1/2 stems of yellow or green

2 to 3 yards of wired ribbon
(2 inches wide)

1 6-inch wooden pick with wire

The Kissing Ball

Junior Cheri White described it as “a misletoe times seven and put on steroids.” The kissing ball is a sphere of boxwood attached to a hanging hook and decorated with ribbon.

To make it, use one third of a block of flower foam covered with chicken wire or a kissing-ball-specific sphere of foam, and attach it to a wire with a hook. Then fill in the foam with sprigs of boxwood until all the interior is hidden. Make a bow out of ribbon, attach it to a wooden peg, and then plunge the peg into the foam near the top of the ball. If desired, attach a few hanging pieces of ribbon to the bottom of the bow to make it look like the bow went through the kissing ball. Then hang it up and go find someone to meet beneath it.

The Boxwood Tree

Make this miniature Christmas tree by starting with a piece of foam. Stick one sprig of boxwood in the top to create a vertical axis. Then, visualizing a triangle with the tip of that first sprig as its point, fill in the foam. Make sure there are longer pieces at the bottom and shorter pieces toward the top.

Choose tree accessories to stick, interspersed, into the foam that match with the rest of your Christmas decorations, senior Jessica Senphansiry advises. Then top it with a bow.

“You want to give it rhythm and harmony,” she said.

Friday, December 19, 2008


How come salads always taste so much better when other people make them?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

new london index

(all numbers applicable from April 2008)

Number of prominent local business men who found me an eligible young bachelor: 2
Number of close friends made who then moved away: 3
Number of (probably) unrequited crushes: 1
Number of yoga classes taken: 88
Number of yoga teachers who are my Facebook friends: 2
Amount paid per month to take unlimited classes: $85
(Price of an unlimited monthly NYC metrocard: about $85)
Number of layoff rounds at work: 2
Number of colleagues I knew who were among the axed: 3
Number of months until I'm sprung: unknown as of publication

vanity psa

My friend and I tried dying my hair with some brown henna stuff yesterday. It didn't do much, though whatever extra gunk was in it acted as a nice conditioner. Maybe I'll try again with the remaining chunk and, this time, go with reviewer suggestions and mix it with coffee...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I rarely dream while sleeping. That's OK with me, because I depend on sleep as a break from my roller-coaster waking brain. Last night I had three vivid dream snippets, and I'm not sure what to make of them, if anything...

*First, I dreamed I and several other (unidentified, though in the dream I knew them) people were solving a mystery, Scooby-Doo gang-style. We ended up walking through a compound surrounded by a chain-link fence that was strewn with the bodies and body parts of dead dogs, mostly pit bulls, in various stages of decay. I turned make a remark to a companion and nearly tripped over one.

Suddenly, a young, beautiful black lab bounded from the house to greet us. A voice from inside the house called out to the dog and she froze, shivering with fear, imploring us to protect her. The man in the house (he was young, and looked strung out, and wore an angled baseball cap) was clearly the narrative's villain. But it was clear to me that my job was to return the dog to its rightful owner. It was the only option, despite ghastly evidence of her future. I walked her gently to the door and handed the collar to the monster. As she strained with all her strength to avoid entering, I fled in tears, trying to avoid dead dogs on the way.

*Next, I dreamed I was in the passenger seat of my mom's car, and we were driving through what looked like Old Avon Village. We were hungry, so we stopped at the first sign we saw for a cafe, with outdoor seating, next to a salon. She wasn't open but served us anyway. We sat outside and ordered some coffee and then looked at the menu. It charged fancy New York dinner prices for petit bakery items that looked like the mini scones sold at Starbucks. I felt betrayed by the discrepancy between the cafe's appearance and its food prices.

*Finally, I dreamed I was walking in New York City at night (in the East 30s, like I did Monday evening), not paying much attention because my feet knew the path. Gradually, a familiar route became unfamiliar, and I noticed that it was daytime, and warm, and sunny, and I was walking on a narrow dirt path lined with vegetation with farms on one side and New York gleaming, far down a hill and across a river, on the other. It seemed impossible to retrace my steps to get back there, so I kept walking forward.

I came upon a young man wearing a dull blue plaid shirt and overalls who was using a pocket knife to cut ripe tomatoes off a tomato bush (yes, it was a bush, like a blueberry bush, not a vine). He was collecting them in a wooden bucket. The path was narrow enough that he had to press against the bush for me to pass, and then I asked where I was and how to return to New York. Instead of responding, he cut another tomato off with a magician's flourish, and sliced through its top. He lifted it off and the tomato bloomed inside out into a delicate, origami-style rose, all its petals made of tomato. As I stared he did it a couple more times, with deliberate, careful motions, each time making a new fantastical shape.

He picked up the bucket and motioned me to follow, and we continued down the path to a clearing, where his large, tanned family was having a raucous, lazy picnic in a circle of lawn chairs in the middle of a pasture. Their barns and farmhouse were visible across the expanse. I sat next to a man in his late 30s, with a slight paunch, a mustache and curly hair. He said he'd take me home after I joined them for lunch. I thanked him and began enjoying the good-natured company and fresh food. Then, he began hitting on me - shamelessly, physically, rather inappropriately - in front of his family, who didn't seem to notice, or else was unconcerned. I wasn't troubled in my dream either. But the lackadaisical attitude must have concerned the real me, because I awoke.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I spent a couple hours on this fine December day lounging in summer clothes beside a pool. It's strange to hear Christmas jingles and see holiday-themed designs beneath palm trees but, other than that, I don't see why we all put up with living in the north where it's cold cold cold from November through March.

My friend, P, and I are spending four days at a resort in Kissimmee, about three miles from Disney World. So far, we spent a day outlet shopping, a day at the Magic Kingdom and a day recovering from Disney sensory overload. Tomorrow we're going on a river ride that will hopefully include manatee sighting - ! She cooks, I drive, we alternate paying and we both love to whisper snarky comments about stereotypical American tourists.

Wow, this post is even boring me, but I'm tired and have to drive more tomorrow. I'll write a brilliant take on our Disney adventure - my friend, who grew up in India, is an Indian people magnet, I swear; who nets a home-cooked Punjabi lunch on the hotel shuttle to, as "cast members" say, WDW? - soon, one hopes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I'm going on my first "adult" vacation Monday, the first vacation that I brainstormed, planned and paid for without any parental input.

My friend and I are going to Disney World.

There will be dispatches from Main Street USA if time and adventures warrant.

(For a real travelogue, just go here and follow N's adventures in India.)

Friday, November 28, 2008


The good news is that my dear friend who just went to India was in and out of the Mumbai train station a whole eight hours before people started killing other people there. The bad news is the tail end of the sentence.

Also, I know the family of someone who was reporting on the terrorism in Mumbai - they just moved there last summer. I sent the 11-year-old daughter an e-mail to make sure everyone was OK.

Her response:

"ya we r fine but there r these terrorists r attacking this building near me"


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

nosto book keeper

"Grease is my favorite vegetable."

Friday, November 21, 2008


I went with a couple friends to a book reading in Baltic, CT, which is somewhere beyond Norwich, with a town center that consisted of churches, a convenience store and an unlabeled diner sandwiched between miles of ready-made two-family houses.

The reading, by a psychologist-science writer, Gary Greenberg, was in the diner - his daily breakfast joint - with a warm-up reading by his fellow local author breakfast companion, Glenn Cheney. (Glenn wrote the sole Amazon comment on Gary's book so far, giving it five stars: "This is a good book for anyone who needs something new to think about. For others, well, there's always hallucinogens and TV.")

Here is Gary's invitation e-mail:

Most of you know by now--because I've told you, maybe more than once—that my book, The Noble Lie, came out this fall. It's a series of stories about what happens when doctors turn moral dilemmas into medical problems and then try to diagnose away our confusion. Which—not to ruin the end or anything—is usually not pretty, but is often funny.

I thought about having a big celebrity- studded book party, but I couldn't round up a shirt that takes studs. So I settled for a couple of fellow writers who don't even own cummerbunds. We're going to have a Book Event at Fred's News in Baltic, CT, the town the Parker Bros. had in mind when they made Baltic Ave the second-cheapest property in Monopoly.

The evening will be cleverly timed to coincide with the beginning of the holiday shopping season--Friday, Nov. 21st. The doors (actually, there's only one) will open at 630, and by the time it's all over, it will be 830 or 9. There will be food and drink. There will be music. There will be reading. There will be autographing. There will not be oil, but there will be books. The event is a benefit. If you buy any books—and I certainly hope you will—profits will be donated to the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

The other writers are Penny Newbury and Glenn Cheney. Penny is the author of the recently released short story collection Remember Me. Most of her stories take place near New London and Groton, where she grew up, or the countries she lived in before she came to work in, of all places, Baltic. She'd never heard of it before either.

Glenn has just published his twentieth book, Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims' First Year in America. It covers just about every known fact about what happened between the landing of the Mayflower and the famous harvest feast celebrated the following fall (and that will be celebrated again, speaking of clever coincidences, on the Thursday following the reading). It's easily the funniest book ever written on the subject of people who flee persecution, brave a horrific ocean crossing on a tiny, germ-infested boat, and then find themselves in a hostile wilderness with absolutely no idea of what they are doing.

Excerpts from both Glenn's and Penny's books are available at You can read excerpts from The Noble Lie at, which is an abbreviated address for the amazon page.

Fred's News, which, by the way, no longer sells newspapers and has never been owned by anyone named Fred, is at 51 W. Main Street (Rt. 207) in Baltic. There's no Fred's News sign, but there are a couple of outside lights and an awning, which, even though it's nighttime, I'll ask them to unfurl for your convenience. Fred's is on the north side of the road a few hundred yards from the intersection with Rt. 97, and directly opposite a building that if it were twenty stories taller, a lot prettier, and filled with well-dressed young publishing executives, would be a dead ringer for the Flatiron in New York. There's not a surplus of parking along the street, but there is a Methodist church and a phone company office on the other side of W. Main Street, each of which has a parking lot behind it; a big Catholic church a couple hundred yards farther west on Rt. 207 that has a large lot; and, to the east of Fred's, just around the corner on Rt. 97, a stone building called the Grist Mill, which houses the Sprague public library, and which has, you guessed it, a large parking lot. So, by the way, does the Baltic Convenience/Package Store, conveniently located right on the 97/207 corner. Not that I'm telling you to park in any of those places, but I can assure you that the streets of Baltic are safe and that the tow truck drivers probably don't know where it is either.

If you let me know if you're coming, then we can make sure to have enough food and drink. Any questions, email me.

He does not mention that Fred's News is the localest of local joints, with a large open griddle, cluttered sports and vintage advertisement paraphernalia and, as my friend noted, Tiffany-style lamps whose porcelain shades depicted Nascar drivers (they turned on by touching the lamp base). Also that Glenn's book is a day-by-day rundown of life in Plymouth that's unintentionally hilarious. It's full of tidbits like, "The captain died, and then the rest of us observed the Sabbath day of rest; they were sick and running out of beer." On and on and on.

When Glenn finally stopped recounting minutiae of the first winter in the New World, Gary stepped back to the microphone and quipped, "If they were Jewish, that would be the Haggadah."

Monday, November 03, 2008

i'm drinking coffee from my zabar's mug this morning, for sure

MSNBC guy stands outside Zabar's in a McCain-Palin t-shirt and then is surprised that people are so liberal.

Let Upper West Side Jews steal your affection here.

Friday, October 31, 2008


My corner-mates were talking about the importance of embarrassing their offspring. I questioned the wisdom, since I'm the approximate age of their kids.

K: "I feel it's my job as the younger demographic to question your logic."

Beloved, adorable colleague: "Your premise is flawed, because there is no logic there."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

madison square art

Must go see this (Oct. 24 - Nov. 17). Madison Square Park is one of the greatest places on the planet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"You'll never believe what happened to me this afternoon," I said to my editor after returning from a meeting with the head of the local Jewish Federation over two hours after leaving to meet him.

"He happened to you," she said with a small smile, using his name.

I was walking to the Federation, I told her, when he shouted out his window, "Are you coming to see me? Get in." I did, and he announced we would go to the Sukkah of the local Hasidic rabbi and speak there.

"You have to warn me when people are insane," I chided my editor.

Her reply?

"You didn't tell me you'd be getting in the car with him!"

But I did, and soon we were a couple miles beyond downtown New London. There were about 20 people of all ages and observance levels sitting around two giant tables crammed into the Sukkah, and a meal was about to begin, less than a half-hour after I finished my lunch.

They ushered the Fed prez and me inside to wash. I've never done it, so I did not know the blessings. The rabbi's pale, slight wife talked me through the ritual as their eight children stomped in and out of the kitchen (they range from age three to 14, and seven of them are girls). I felt like I'd stepped out of the car and into Washington Heights or Williamsburg; the whole family was dressed to Orthodox modesty standards, and the wife wore a wig. They're the first Orthodox Jews I've seen since moving here in April. They are the only Hasidic family in the city.

The tables in the Sukkah were covered with a meat feast - steak, meatballs, pasta with chicken, stuffed peppers, sweet potato pie, challah... I sat erect, half-off my chair as I do when I'm uncertain as to what I should be doing. Fed prez began loading my plate with meat hunks. I told him I wasn't very hungry, and he said that I should just eat half of it for appearances' sake.

"It's my second lunch today too," he said, grinning and patting his Santa belly.

Commence festive meal, interspersed with the black-hatted, bearded Rabbi breaking into jolly song snippets and taunting the two (secular) Israeli teens visiting for the year when they didn't know the words.

(Side note: does anyone know how all those Hasidic men snag wives? Does anyone find those wispy beards attractive? Seriously?)

When the wife went in to prepare dessert, I followed to ask her advice on how to feed my Orthodox friends in this area without a Kosher kitchen should they come to visit. We ended up having a long, fun talk, but it gave me the sense that she's lonely. Her two eldest daughters live with grandparents to attend school in Brooklyn, and she home schools the rest with online resources. I asked who she socializes with, and she waffled a bit before saying that she talks to her sister on the phone a lot. I hear that; a good chunk of my social life is phone and gchat-based. But I'm not the sole Hasidic woman in an entire region. After, per her husband's wishes, she talked me through shaking the lulav, she asked if I was interested in studying Torah with her an hour a week.

I told her I didn't know, because I didn't have the heart to outright refuse.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

adventures in "i work saturdays"

A bored detective working the dispatch desk and I had a wide-ranging conversation when I went to collect police logs this afternoon. He asked me my name so that he could look up my articles and heckle me in the reader comments, and I found myself explaining why, when people ask my name, I tend to just give my first name unless people specify. (It has to do with my last name sounding very Jewish, and I'm not religious, so I don't like being labeled by my name. That said, I dislike the fact that I'm not fond of my name, so I refuse to change my byline. It's cyclical K-think.)

"You're crazy, aren't you?" was his response. "Should you really be out there driving around?"

This from a man who who described one arrestee's name as "funny," accused me of spitting on the apple he was eating a couple yards away, called the lobby phone from behind the desk while I was writing and asked me to answer it and called a colleague in another town a garden gnome.

Made my day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"this is how it works..."

I am often deliberate in deciding what sort of gal I wish to be. In college, I decided that I was going improve my posture, my (mental) health, my journalism skills and my ability to exude confidence. I did all those things. A couple old men outside a barber shop near my apartment have complimented me on my posture multiple times, and everybody else just assumes I'm a dancer. (That shows how well people know me here. Friends can relate that I've never been able to dance, ever, though the idea of ballet lessons intrigues me.)

Right now, I'm working on turning my tendency to say "hey" into "hi" or "hello" and "yeah" into "yes," simply because I think those changes would make me sound more polished.

Verbal habits aside, I'm flying blind.

A lot of the affect, etc., I chose to acquire during college are often read as pretentious or condescending in New London. That upsets me, because I don't judge others for doing things I happen to consider unappealing as far as doing them myself. The person I chose to become does not fit in here. Instead of changing myself as I did in New York, I'm pretty happy with myself, which means I now spend a lot of time feeling alone and misinterpreted.

I also cannot decide how to approach bringing change into my life. Do I want to blossom at my current job, fall deeper into a yoga practice, and build a cute little life here for a few years? Do I want to be in NYC at any costs? NYC if I can get a job a want, or one with a trajectory? Someplace warmer, but only for a journalism job? Grad school? Somewhere far, far away from this country, which is in free fall anyhow? Do I want a balanced life or conventional success? Where and how can I do the best writing? How will I know when I'm doing it?

I do know that whether I make an interior paradigm shift or an external one, something needs to change. I feel trapped too often and have too many weeks where I'm sunk helplessly in depression; walking through a doom fog is an energy drain, even if "doom" is a fun word.

self-ish promotion

Orange Juice: Don't Start Your Day without It.

(I never thought to play with punctuation in "selfish." I like it.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

for the record

I HATE cold weather. Hate it. There is no such thing as too many blankets or too much heat (though there is such a thing as paying for too much heat). My fingers are cold and my toes are cold, and a chill permeates the rest of me and makes me want to pace, which means I have to emerge from my blanket cave, which turns into one of those vicious cycles they warn children about in bedtime stories.

I told my yoga teacher last night that I was hunkering down in my blanket pile for the foreseeable future, and she suggested I try and crawl out long enough to go to a warming yoga class Wednesday morning.

Reasonable solutions are such a killjoy when the aim is a display of histrionics.

Here, I'll mitigate my whining with some Muppets:

Friday, October 03, 2008

palin mayhem continues

The VP debate last night was everything I wanted it to be. Sarah Palin was often incoherent, did not address all the questions in her answers and sounded ignorant as Biden corrected her gaffes without sounding condescending. Below, a friend and I weigh in on the state of the debate.

Friend: I was sort of hoping Palin would implode, but it sadly didn't happen

me: I don't understand how people are saying she didn't fail. When did the ability to form complete sentences become "not failure"? She didn't answer the questions when she didn't feel like it, there were more cliché talking points than substance, and she was condescending: "There you go, Joe, looking back again."

Friend: Actually, I didn't think she failed either. I agree with you: she didn't answer questions, and she had no substance. But she was (a) not the wreck she's been in interviews; (b) consistently appealing to the kind of people who don't care if you know anything

me: Apparently, the woman has no weaknesses ("Achilles' heel")

Friend: I loved that. Her weaknesses are that she is TOO fond of this country!! Please.

me: But seriously - is slang supposed to be appealing?

Friend: Jim Lehrer said she was 'relentlessly colloquial.' It is [appealing] to people who want to identify with her, and don't care that running a government is about intelligence, skill, and erudition, not being Joe six-pack

me: Which is scary to me. I was watching her horrified that someone who doesn't seem to know anything could be that "heartbeat away."

Friend: It's scary to me, too

me: And others were probably watching Joe Biden's calm, clear responses and well-placed humor and thinking, "That establishment bastard." There were just so many holes in her logic

Friend: That's why I was so disappointed that she didn't fall flat on her face. He was great, I have to say. Not only did he answer every question, but he handled her really well, I thought. He addressed all his attacks to McCain and was consistently pleasant, good-natured, and funny with her

me: Which takes skill. I would've been all "Lady, you're not making sense - again!"

Friend: Me too. I would have been like, “I’m sorry, which part was the answer to that question?”

me: They respond to her with more respect for her than I think her answers deserve

Friend: Well, they have to, because otherwise they'll be seen as picking on the pretty little governor. Big bad establishment guy v. pretty little google-eyed governor. It's like, please, Joe Biden is a marshmallow and Sarah Palin is a barracuda. I was so shocked when she corrected him by saying, “the cheer is actually drill, baby, drill”

me: I kind of love Palin's little daughter who's always pushing her way into the center of things, the one who spit on Trig's head

Friend: I know, she's kind of adorable. And there's no getting around the fact that Sarah Palin's a good-looking woman

me: I don't find her good looking

Friend: Well, she's not my type, either, but I see her mass appeal

me: She doesn't radiate any good energy, just mania, which for me negates the fact that she's slim, etc

Friend: Oh, totally. And her eyes get sort of weirdly manic. I LOVE the Tina Fey version of her

me: Her makeup also looks kinda plastic on TV

Friend: Well, she looks like a beauty queen in a suit. Which is exactly what she is

me: And when she reiterates her credentials, it sounds to me like someone discussing high school experiences at a post-college job interview

Friend: Well, because that's what it is. She's working off so little, it sounds like she's trying to sell an undergrad resume. I mean, you might say that relative to many policymakers, Barack Obama has less experience, but you'd also have to concede that relative to most people, the constitutional law professorship, community organizer, state senator, and US senator resume is pretty damn incredible. Whereas weather girl, PTA mom, mayor of a small town, and first-term governor doesn't have quite that weight

me: (First-term governor of a state nobody really lives in)

Friend: I know. Ridiculous. [Colleagues] hosted a debate-watching party last night with a drinking game - a shot every time someone said “Alaska”

[For more crazy, see a Palin debate tactic flow chart here.]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

few things make me giggle at the mailbox, but we have a winner

I bet the fist-bump Obama cover made Remnick determined to give Barry Blitt as many cover gigs as possible. This one's called "A Room with a View," which is a brilliant way to pay homage to my favorite "View of the World from Ninth Avenue," satire the perversion of feminism that happened when Palin joined the ticket and, like Blitt's other covers, tickle the brains of those pesky Eastern Liberal (Media) Elites who are watching the whole show.

Speaking of shows - VP debate tonight!!! I hope this continues my suspicions that Palin is more entertaining than Britney by making tonight more of a debacle than last year's MTV Awards show performance.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

today's installment of self-promotion

I finally thought of a feature story that was entertaining to write - the first time in a good, long while. The headline, as usual, is inane. I wish we had copy editors who knew what they were doing. Sigh. They, or perhaps the equally awesome city editor on duty early last night, also added a word into the brief I wrote that made it a tad misleading. They could've called and checked with me.

End rant; start article:

Ledyard - When Mayor Fred Allyn formed a new “core group” last week to start discussing next year's budget process, he gave the members more than just a directive to find ways to decrease town spending.

Finance Director Marcia Hancock, Tax Assessor Paul Hopkins, Planner Brian Palaia and Public Works Director Steve Masalin were each promised a copy of John Kotter's “Leading Change,” a 1996 book about the need for bosses to spearhead changes in the workplace.

Allyn assumed his post in December 2007 with various books stacked on his desk, mostly on change in the workplace environment, which he offered to Town Hall employees who asked about them.

He estimates that he has bought 100 copies alone of “Who Moved my Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Ordered from, that amounts to $1,357 from his own pocket, as the town has no Books to Inspire Employees line item in its budget.

Palaia got his new book the day after their meeting.

”I was up there reviewing my memo with him about the projects we have ongoing, and he just suggested that I might enjoy reading this book,” Palaia said. “Leading Change” is the second book Allyn has given him since he took office.

”He does that,” said Hancock, who was hired over the summer. “He reads a book that he really likes and then he gives copies to other people that he thinks will benefit from it.”

And Allyn liked the message in “Who Moved my Cheese?” which, according to Publisher's Weekly, was the best-selling nonfiction book of 2000. It discusses ways to anticipate and adjust to change, broaching the topic through a tale about mice in a maze whose cheese is suddenly moved.

”I think it's important because change is difficult, and I think that we have to use whatever tools that we can use to encourage the changes that are necessary,” Allyn said. “Everybody's cheese gets moved on occasion.”

Economic Development Commission Chairman Stephen Eichelberg was a “Cheese” recipient.

”It was shortly after he took office, and we were having one of our meetings,” said Eichelberg, who has been on the commission for five years. “Generally, we've held our meetings in the mayor's office. I was talking with him briefly after the meeting, and he said, 'I've got a book for you.' “

Unconventional town management techniques can be useful, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities spokesman Kevin Maloney said.

”Sometimes using a non-traditional approach can get people off the back of their chairs,” Maloney said, though he stressed the importance of monitoring its efficacy.

Other books Allyn shares with staff include “Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results,” by Stephen Lundin; “When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up,” by Michael Sedler; and “A Message to Garcia,” by Elbert Hubbard.

The latter, which Allyn offers to employees as well as to new Eagle Scouts, is a slim volume about a Spanish-American War messenger who selflessly enters a dangerous Cuban jungle to deliver a missive.

”It's not book-learning young men need,” Hubbard wrote in 1899, “nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing - 'Carry a message to Garcia.' “

Allyn reviewed the book on in May.

”I give 'Message to Garcia' to new Management employees of our Town,” he wrote. “The message is 'brief' which I feel is important, and clear. It demonstrates what I expect of our Management Team players.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Sarah Silverman says, go to Florida and convince your Jewish grandparents to vote Obama.


The past two nights, I was supposed to go to night town meetings and crawled under the covers instead. I didn't feel all that guilty either time. When will I buckle down and do my goddamn job, trapped though I may be?

I wish every day was one long yoga class interspersed with flying trapeze stints, with time set aside each morning and night for reading, writing, chai and ice cream - and that I went home to sleep in my sunny studio apartment in the West 90s. Anyone want to join me in my dream? (Just get your own apartment.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

adolescent summers

People are noting the cancellation of the MTV series TRL, which has long showcased screeching teens at their most vapid. But the daily show was a welcome break as a teen during the annual August week the parents dragged my brother and me to a guest house on a beach near Portland, ME. There, just before entering high school, I remember watching the day Tom Green's "Bum Bum Song" hit number one.

That was good television. Many are mentioning Mariah Carey's unscripted entrance, but Tom Green deserves a shout-out. I loved watching his antics as a teen because they were unapologetic, crass and absurd. The day his song topped the list, he ran a victory lap into the squealing masses outside as the cameras, caught by surprise (it seemed) struggled to keep up with him and showed confused security officers struggling to deal with chaos.

After triumphing, Green retired the song to leave room for "real" music videos, even as the canny fool muddled MTV's standard definition by getting footage of a man in a superhero suit with a fake backside into an album sales-boosting category.

Friday, August 27, 1999
1) Tom green - "Bum bum song
2) 'N Sync - "Music Of My Heart"
3) "Britney spears - "(You drive me) Crazy"
4) Lfo - "Summer girls"
5) 98° - "I do (Cherish you)"
6) Christina Aguilera - "Genie in a bottle"
7) Mariah carey - "Heartbreaker"
8) Kid rock - "Cowboy"
9) Jennifer Lopez - "Waiting For Tonight"
10) Orgy - "Stitches"

Saturday, September 20, 2008


A veteran police dispatcher said that crimes rise with a waxing moon, and that things are quieter as it wanes from full to new. It doesn't make sense, she said, but 19 years on the job have born out the observation. The loonies emerge; men beat their wives.

"Some of them are funny," the dispatcher said of the stories she hears as the moon grows. "Some of them are sad, and some of them are just, 'Grow up, idiot!'"

This is a great theory, but it still can't be my favorite; I have a friend convinced that the shorter she cuts her hair the bigger her arse appears to be.

Friday, September 19, 2008

today's advice from a surrogate aunt:

"Don't do anything rash without calling me first."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

red velvet letdown (smackdown?)

My red velvet cupcakes (via E's brilliant recipe) are yummier than the ones at Crumbs, which instigated my connoisseur's pursuit. Their frosting is not cream cheesy but generically vanilla and the cake is chalky. FYI. If you want the best ones, you'll just have to come visit New London. And sweet-talk me into brandishing my skills.

paradigm shifts

One thing about eating disorders is that someone might flee its hellish clutches but continue finding ash caked into her shoes, even three-odd years after deciding perpetual suffering was bullshit when living could be an option.

The consistency of my reactions to upsetting affairs - physical desire, Sarah Palin - retain an unnerving comfort even though the upshot is uncomfortable. My perceptions of others grow fuzzy, trapped in that funhouse mirror that makes a person look rotund and warped, Botero smoking a Picasso pipe minus the uplifting colors. Others’ speech approximates the “Muppet Babies” nanny. The unpleasantness diverts my brain from some realer source of anxiety.

This extreme distortion is dormant on a “normal” day, though my self-perception still shows a gal a few dress sizes above the skinny chick that I am. I’ve been told that, in the battle against an eating disorder, body image is often the last symptom standing. I’ve learned how to reality-check by the consistent fit of my clothes and by holding close those rare, accidental glimpses when, from the corner of my eye, I see the reflection of a young woman who looks awfully thin and vulnerable, and awfully like me.

But like that autumn day in college when I walked onto Riverside Drive and everything was brighter, as though my senses decided I could handle life in bigger doses, my brain surprised me one day last week when I woke up, looked in the mirror and found that I was thin.

I was confused until I realized I was seeing my body with accuracy for more than a moment for the first time since I was 16. I dropped my eyes from the reflection down toward the female self-hatred zone. My stomach and thighs were thin. Really thin. Wow.

All the women I passed were bodies instead of the usual – heads perched atop hideous blobs emanating waves of anxiety across the sidewalk. Anyone not skeletal caused a repulsion so routine I did not notice it until it disappeared that day, replaced by an inkling as to why Western art seems like one long interpretation of female curves (aside from it giving male artists an excuse surround themselves with passive naked women).

The rest of the day felt like wandering Montmartre for the first time, which in New London is saying something.

Monday, September 15, 2008

ten million thumbs up

This Jezebel post from today is dead on about what it's like for a brain to be trapped in anorexia. It's the most accurate thing I've ever read written by somebody else.

hrc at barnard

"Dear Friend," began an e-mail that came in at 9:17 this morning from Barnard's PR office without hiding recipient addresses. ("I like the fact that you're right close to Charles Gibson on the list," wrote a friend to whom I forwarded it.) It continued:
We were honored and delighted to meet many of you at last week's reception for President Debora L. Spar, which was hosted by Anna Quindlen '74, Chair of Barnard's Board of Trustees, and Martha Nelson '76. President Spar would like to convey her deepest thanks to all who attended, as well as the many more who offered their warmest wishes and kind words of good luck.

She is starting the new academic year off with a bang -- at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, President Spar and Barnard College will host Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and members of advocacy organizations for a press conference addressing a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on pay inequity in the workplace.

I was invited to that reception but, seeing as I live in New London and it was a normal Tuesday, I couldn't go. There's a sweet Barnard trustee who makes me feel valued and adds me to invitation lists, which was how I ended up receiving the above note.

I was free to see Hillary this afternoon - and was already going to be at Barnard - so I RSVP'd with my paper affiliation for me and a friend who is a Barnard senior but, today, was a colleague who forgot her press pass. No matter that this press conference was clearly irrelevant to Day coverage. We sat next to the economics professor who taught my freshman-year intro lecture. He told me I still looked like a student. Is that a good thing?

When it was Clinton's turn to speak, she spoke about pay equity and then used the forum to segue into speaking about today's Wall Street debacle as evidence of a failed Bush presidency, calling its response to the current recession "haphazard at best" and calling on Bush to convene an economic summit.

"Pay equity is a critical issue, but having the jobs underlying that pay equity is absolutely essential," Clinton said.

A reporter from WNYC asked Clinton what she would have done if she were president last night, as Lehman Brothers and Merril Lynch tumbled, and the "3 a.m." phone call arrived.

"I would've answered the phone - I'm not sure that President Bush did," she replied.

Anyway, I was close enough to where Clinton was standing to see that she is much prettier in the flesh than she appears on camera. She is more petite, and she has large, gorgeous blue eyes. (She could use a new haircut - my friend and I agreed that it veered too close to mullet.)

She also has a knack for making her reactions to other speakers clear without deflecting attention from them. She listens closely and is sharp and can reel off parallelism-laden political rhetoric with one brain hemisphere tied behind her back. It was interesting to watch her use the lectern to weigh in on Wall Street despite it being just vaguely related to the GAO report, because it underlined the fact that anything that comes out of Hillary Clinton's mouth gets close attention. That can be a negative on the campaign trail, but she understands how to harness that power as an asset too.

(Photo Credit: Dorothy Denburg. Debora Spar is behind Clinton on the right. She seems delightful.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

don't have any reasons, i've left them all behind

New York was disgusting today - sticky and smelly. And glorious.


A friend, E, and I went to MoMA and then shopping, and then I visited the best three year old on the planet (someone else can take the title once she turns four, but I don't care who, because then the best four year old in the world is most important).

I was trying on clothes at the Esprit in Columbus Circle this afternoon, where the sales staff takes the clothes people carry while browsing to start fitting rooms. Edgar took my clothes and then told me that he was distracted explaining a store promotion because I had beautiful eyes. Heard it all before, but it is my favorite compliment.

When I finished browsing, he said that he would love to be my second opinion when I tried on clothes. I pointed out that I brought a second opinion with me (and she looked quite entertained by my ability to attract zaniness). Every couple minutes, Edgar yelled my name across the dressing room corridor, asking if I had something to show him.

"I'm only trying on boring long-sleeve shirts and things," I finally replied.

"I'll get you a dress to try on," he called through the door. A moment later, he returned with a gorgeous argyle sweater dress, a size too small and a bundle above my budget.

"What happens," I asked him, "if I refuse to try it on?"

"I won't let you out of the dressing room," he said. Well then.

He had me model it by the three-angled mirror for another bored sales guy and a stricken female employee before I was permitted to slip back into my own clothing.


Later, E cozied up to an Upper West Side Starbucks while I visited best three year old. (E: "You have such a soft spot for that child.")

She started French immersion preschool this month. Her mother told me that most of the kids are either fluent or proficient in the language, and only a few - including hers - don't know any. All the other non-French speakers had meltdowns the first week, she said, while her daughter ran out of class, gaily remarked, "Mama, I can't understand anything they're saying!" and then ran back in, unfazed.

Also, the pint-sized teenager allayed my fears that she wouldn't remember me after a few months' absence by rolling her little eyes as she said, "I know you."


File this under "Did I just make that up?": Comparing yoga biceps with college thesis adviser.

Friday, September 12, 2008

this in from syria

A friend living (and blogging!) in Syria this year wrote a post that formed a lump in my jaded journalist throat. Waiters in a restaurant found their own way to express sympathy about September 11. Read on.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I dreamed last night that I agreed to be a surrogate mother for a yoga teacher so that she could continue her training uninterrupted. Moments after the implanting procedure, I realized it was a giant mistake.

But I couldn't get an abortion, because the damn thing wasn't mine to abort.

(I woke up grateful about how unlikely it is that I'd ever make such a self-sacrificing decision.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008


This video's all over the internets (thanks, E - this was what my hard-to-distract editor was distracted watching the other day!), but I like it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

hockey moms, and dads

I went to the Ledyard Fair last night, because I have no life, and was wandering around in search of a story when I came upon a town council member. He's a sweetheart - fun to joke around with, intelligent, charming - but mega-conservative. So conservative.

"Did you watch the RNC speeches?" he asked me, after introducing me to his 9-year-old daughter.

I told him I'd watched Joe Lieberman's speech, and Sarah Palin's.

"Did you see that Sarah Palin - wasn't she fantastic?" he said, grinning.

"I don't think we can have this conversation," I replied.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

the "mrs. doubtfire" moment

"Ever wish you could freeze frame a moment in your day, and look at it and say, 'This is not my life'?"

Saturday, August 09, 2008

thank goodness you pointed that out!

I walked a block from the office to pick up the arrest logs at the New London police station this afternoon. I crossed the street, chatting away on my cell phone. A man in the upper reaches of middle age leaned out of his car, which was stopped at the light, and called out, "Excuse me!"

I turned around.

"You're wearing a dress and pants," he said. His head and that of his female companion were both cocked to the side, two quizzical fowl.

"Yes," I said.

He nodded as though my response cleared something up, and then the light changed and the car continued up the hill.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

to be continued...

I've gotten a request to not let this blog go defunct. I've been busy and preoccupied, etc, but I'll try to write something soon! Something more than this, that is.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I wrote an awful weekend story about a Christian music festival in Ledyard. It basically said, "It was hot; there were Christians." My dad sent me an e-mail this morning:

Why didn't their savior protect them from satan's heat? They are a bunch of wimps. No hot ass humid day would deter an evangelical christian worth his tee shirt from a good potato sack race. Praise the lord, what is this world coming to?
love dad

Thursday, July 17, 2008

bodily sprawl

I sprawled on my friend's carpet last night after the Project Runway premiere, and her boyfriend said, "Are you doing yoga?" And I said, "No, I'm lying on the floor," and then another friend (whom I'm trying to convince to come to class with me) approached and said, "If we have to do that in yoga, there's no way I can do it."

Honestly, folks. I know I sit funny, but do I sprawl funny?

(Responses welcome.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

muppets are happy

This video of Feist on Sesame Street is making the internet rounds (and is fantastic, but tell me: was Sesame Street always so pristine? I remember it grittier) --

Of course, it sent me into a YouTube frenzy. Robin Williams style. Best shirt ever?

same train of thought

From WP on the New Yorker cover controversy:

The main problem with the New Yorker cover -- if it's a problem at all -- is that its humor is intended for a relatively insular, like-minded readership: subscribers to the New Yorker, a presumably urbane audience with strong Obama tendencies. No matter what the New Yorker says about holding up a mirror to prejudice, the cartoon certainly didn't do that. It was more like a spyglass.

The cover, like so many self-deprecating, wryly funny, overly self-referential New Yorker covers before it, is just another prism through which New Yorker readers confirm something that is true and easily caricatured at the same time: They are an elite, a minority, and while they might be more educated or sophisticated or adept at the play of humor, they will always be outvoted by Texas. And Kansas. And the rest of the states beyond reach of the A train. The cover says as much about the political influence of Manhattan as it does about the prejudice of the rubesoisie.

The cover's artist also made the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wide stance cover last fall. My Columbia friends and I thought the cover was hysterical; understanding its humor required: knowing that Ahmadinejad gave a speech at Columbia, an awareness that the speech mentioned the Iranian president's belief that homosexuality does not exist, the fact that reaction to that remark in Columbia circles was often amusement, and a familiarity with the Larry Craig gay bathroom sex scandal. Insular indeed.

And while I can't speak for my friends, I appreciated the cover even more knowing that most people in the world would have no way to understand the multi-layered joke that I got by virtue of where I lived and who my friends are.

Monday, July 14, 2008

what can i say?

me: i'm having lunch with [high school guidance counselor] and [high school english teacher]

N: that's going to be awesome
they're coming down to you?

me: n.
i'm k.
of course they are

sometimes you amaze me
i can kind of understand with people our age, but when you're able to convince full-grown adults to bend to your will i'm still a little surprised

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Yesterday was exhausting. It's Sailfest weekend, which means vendors, rides, food and people flocked to the area, and the streets to which local merchants are constantly trying to draw foot traffic are overrun with a diverse assortment of area residents. I had to walk around in the mayhem looking for "vignettes" for today's paper.

The good news is that the awesome yoga teacher who lives in my building latched onto my elbow for awhile and walked me around to introduce me to a bunch of young, artsy New Londoners. I met a crop of great people yesterday, and I hope I can parlay some awkward introductions into a new social circle. Probably not, because I'm usually the least alternative of my friends, and I'm an introvert. We'll see.

But my moods swing like the unsafe looking rides that dotted the pier for Sailfest. Last night, I sat on the roof of the parking garage near work with a colleague and her boyfriend watching the Mashantuckets' grand fireworks display (one of the fireworks was in the shape of a dollar sign, lest viewers forget who's running that show and, really, most others in the area). Before the explosions started, the boyfriend's former girlfriend and her son came over to say hello, causing my friend to stiffen beneath her gracious exterior. She told me later that, after she was already dating her boyfriend, that ex had written a text: "Missing you from the waist down."

And this woman seemed like one of the classier folks in the vicinity. The Star-Spangled Banner played before the show began and, when I groaned (oops), various neighbors, who had stood and removed their hick baseball caps from their greasy heads, scowled at me. I was surrounded by motorcycles, cheap, ugly clothes, flab, petty conservatism, stupidity, bad food, hair, and teeth, etc.

I was not surrounded by: fashion sense, cultivation, subtlety, class, grace... all of which I've worked hard to cultivate and all of which stands out in me enough so that a waitress at a bar near Niantic called me "Mary Poppins," because she found my mannerisms prim. Yes, I was the one at "Sex and the City" who leaned over to the girl sitting beside me and said, "You can't actually take books out of the 42nd Street library." I miss New York, where fools still have great shoes and if I make a Kafka reference without self-censoring, every single person over 15 on the Upper West Side would get it instead of going slack-jawed.

But I'm here, and I came to do good journalism. I did not anticipate how a lack of media sophistication here would make me so tired - I constantly have to put up with disrespect that borders on verbal abuse, small-minded suspicion and a misunderstanding of what media is (things that it is not: a glorified series of press releases, a place for feel-good spin, a place where things are not "balanced" - only negative when not glowing). Readers have venomous reactions when what they read is not exactly what they think. This is not a blanket observation - there are residents, school officials and town officials who have educated, nuanced understandings of our mission as a news-gathering organization. But they're in the minority. And they often have name-brand college degrees and experience living places that are less insular. Just sayin'.

I abhor the rednecks who comment on stories, because their comments have nothing to do with journalistic skill, good writing, getting the innovative angle or the unique voice, and everything to do with their narrow, unsophisticated agendas. A senior profile a colleague wrote last month about a teen mother who is going on to college was plastered with Puritanical reader comments about how she should have kept her legs shut.

Comments on the story I posted yesterday, my A1 coup, were evil. Readers took a piece of thoughtful writing with a specific angle and (I maintain) subtle, balanced execution and panned the fact that I mentioned the fact that teens drink when I could have written about the agricultural nirvana that is the fair for a 44th consecutive year!

Here's the best one:

This was a very poorly written article. Kira: Your choice to soil the hard work of those involved with putting together such a great event for a town that has taken so many hits this year was a poor one at best. What was your motivation behind this? North Stonington has received a lot of bad press this year and this did nothing but make it worse. How about you get it together and start looking at some of the great things that happen in this town. Where are the articles about the great success our kids have in the outside world? Where are the articles that highlight the fact that our taxpayers take on a tremendous financial burden to maintain a high quality of life for our families? Where are the articles about the classic New England farming traditions that are still maintained in this town? Where are the articles about the diverse education we manage to provide to our kids despite the extreme financial challenges our the town faces? Where are the articles about the incredibly creative teachers we have in our classrooms? Thanks a lot for dragging us through the mud again. Talk about kicking a town when they're down. This was a cheap shot and it's time for The Day to back off for a while. This is a great town and the negative perception the newspaper has is based in rumors and poor research. This is a pathetic example of journalism and a poorly written article. You should be ashamed of yourself Kira.
The poster is anonymous, because there's nothing like not putting your name on something that screams "legitimacy." (Bear with this post's shoddy writing, friends - I'm frustrated, lonely and have a headache.)

Perhaps I need a thicker skin to last in journalism. Or perhaps I need to scale back my idealistic naivete, to stop giving two shits about what people in my coverage area think, and write my way back into an unrealistic bubble full of educated intellectuals who understand the importance of curiosity, creativity and writing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I'm proud of this story. I wrote my way onto the front page - writing about the North Stonington Fair, no less. (When I first walked into the fair Thursday afternoon, I called my parents in a panic. There were tractors on one side, cows on another and rednecks all around. "I want to be curled up in a bed in Manhattan!" I whined.)

All's Fair In North Stonington

North Stonington - Everyone in town attends the annual agricultural fair.

Children chomp on fried Oreos and screech aboard the rides. Adults watch tractor pulls, dog shows - and their screeching children.

And rounding out the crowd are the teenagers.

“When you get done with school, you're like, 'When is the fair?' “ said recent Wheeler High School graduate Mackenzie Robert, 17. “You can always tell when people aren't from here because they walk around thinking, 'Why is this so cool?' “ she said.

But everyone who grew up in town knows that the fair is a surefire opportunity to catch up with friends and family, teens said, as well as providing something to do in an area with few entertainment options.

Teens of various ages mingle in constantly morphing groups with a comfortable camaraderie, sometimes detaching to wander with family or buy french-fry baskets to share.

Some teens volunteer at the fair to maintain a family tradition. Other, more agricultural-minded youth use the fair as a showcase for their farming talents.

The Hollister-clad set came for the Thursday opening because, in the fair's 44th year, it's not summer in North Stonington without it. And some teens seize the opportunity to party on their own turf, bringing alcohol to the officially dry event.

”In the beginning of the week I'll ride by here because I like to see the progress” of fair preparations, said 20-year-old Kaitlyn Holliday, who worked at the fair information booth Thursday evening alongside her mother, Norma, the town clerk. Holliday also planned to help serve Saturday night's ham and bean supper, which her mother and grandmother have both helped organize in years past.

Alan Ladd, 17, rakes the ring after the oxen, horse and pony pulls. His cousins train oxen to pull. The Grasso Southeastern Technical High School student enjoys the chance to catch up with his North Stonington friends, whom he rarely sees during the academic year.

”At the fair, it kind of all just comes together for four days,” Robert said. She and her friends used to wash tables in exchange for complimentary ride passes.

An eye on alcohol

There's a quiet area beyond the livestock pens where farmers park their trucks, trailers and gear during the fair. Bats swoop above and fireflies flicker in the brush. Local teens talk their way into parking back there, too. After dusk, they buy Pepsis from a vendor in small groups and then wander back to the coolers stashed in their vehicles, seeking rum or vodka to make the sodas more interesting.

”I'm not too impressed with the Ferris wheel anymore,” one teen explained with a smile and a shrug.

”Over 17, it's pretty much guaranteed” that people will be drinking, another college-age teen said. Even adults are drinking at the dry event, the person added. “They'll be walking around with coffee cups. It's not coffee.”

At an organizational meeting Tuesday, a Grange member complained that some fairgoers brought alcohol with them last year. Organizers asked that resident state troopers keep an eye peeled for illicit beverages.

Johanna Wertz, 19, who was chosen as Fair Queen on Thursday, thinks that drinking at the fair is limited to “a few specific kids that can't keep it under control.”

Wertz, who helped organize the fair this year, won her crown before an audience of mostly adults and younger children who watched from bleachers facing the front steps of the Grange Hall.

Asked how to make the fair last another 44 years, Wertz mentioned the need to bring more young people into the planning process.

But before next year's planning begins, Wertz was busy preparing to show cows at the fair from her relatives' Stonington beef farm. Other teens will show rabbits or horses, or enter the pie-eating contest, or gorge on ham and beans, surrounded by friends and memories.

”Mostly we just walk around and make fun of people,” said Jon Banker, 18. “I don't know what else to tell you.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

common sense? nah.

I have to get my car's oil changed - a first. So I called up Simon, who is a good friend's uncle. He owns a shop in New London. The poor man made the error of answering the phone.

me: I need stuff done to my car
Simon: You need it serviced?
me: Yes, I think so.
S: What kind of car do you have?
me: Camry
S: What year is it?
me: Sometime after 2000, maybe? 2002? 2004?
S: How many miles?
me: 6...66... I don't know. Should I run out and check?
S: No no. How do you know you need it serviced?
me: The sticker on the windshield said so.
S: Oh, so you need an oil change.
me: Yes, I guess that's it. By the way, are you Simon?
S: Yes.
me: I'm E's friend.
S: Oh yes! Hi. I was warned multiple times that you'd be calling.

Monday, July 07, 2008


A friend and I were walking home (from doing yoga on a pier!!) just now, when a young, earnest boy lingering at the edge of the sidewalk stepped toward us.

"Have you seen a little boy?" he asked.

"His name's Shimay, and he's brown?"

Thankfully, he was just around the corner.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

good work, good ice cream

This blurb excerpt by a colleague, in a collection reviewing all the ice cream in the area, is a delight:


629 Montauk Ave., New London

Price (including tax): $3.71

The scoop: It was Connecticut homeboy Wallace Stevens who wrote, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” assuring us that the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. Of course, that was a poem about death - but my poem “The Arch-Duke of the Morgue” is a poem about ice cream, so I guess we're even. I think about this whenever I'm at Michael's original Dairy, munching my dip of Monster Mash. It's a dangerously great combo: vanilla ice-cream hosting a Battle Royale involving M&Ms, caramel swirls, malted milk balls and fudge, and the Michael's servers usually craft a softball-size hunk of ice-cream balanced tenderly atop the sugar cone.


(I slipped a cheesy Macbeth reference into my own dumb weekend story running today, so all is well with the world.)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Yes, yes. Agreed.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

fugging on, as usual

The Fug Girls captured my feelings about the "Mamma Mia" film preview:

Maybe I have been seduced by the Mamma Mia preview, during which I had the following response: "This looks TERRIBLE. Is that Meryl Streep? But, this is so cheesy., it's....hang on. I feel so confused. ABBA....Colin Firth....Meryl is, does that jumpsuit have bell bottons? What's this strange emotion sweeping over me. HANG ON. It feels like...delight. SHIT. Now I think I have to see this movie."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

blogging danger zone

I could've strangled one of my editors last night - the only one I really don't like. It was Saturday evening near the end of my shift and I was grumpy, so when he walked over to tell me about a few insignificant edits, drawing his language out to make inane things sound important, I answered as tersely as possible get on with it.

"Is something amiss tonight?" he asked me.

"It's Saturday night, and there are a few places I would rather be right now," I said.

"Then why did you take this job?" was his reply.

I stared at him until he walked away, and an empathetic co-worker let me spew profanity for a couple minutes. Also, she said he resembles the Geico caveman. I'd never seen the character (no TV), but the concept was heartening.

And, after extensive research, I see she had a point.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

diets, women, etc.

Women-chatter drives me nuts. It pervades every office atmosphere:

"Diet diet diet Curves fitness calories calories ooh, free brownies in the break room!" It's messed up that the conversational currency American women share is body dissatisfaction.

I couldn't apply my leaky filter fast enough a few weeks back and, when diet talk started, lost patience and muttered to a colleague, "You know, it's really not hard. The trick to not getting fat is not overeating. Just don't do it."

As people go, I'm really in no position to be engaging in diet talk.

A (tubby) co-worker is doing Weight Watchers. Fine. But she invites people to lunch on days when she "budgets" a sandwich she craves into her day, as though we should applaud her self-control or something. I overheard her and another woman complaining that eating a healthy-sized breakfast makes them hungrier earlier in the day, so they choose not to. No word on the fact that jump-starting one's metabolism in the morning is a healthier way to go through the day than is being hungry later at night when most folks are sedentary.

Yesterday, she and I and my desk-mate, a marvelous guy who is always downing yogurts to lose weight, walked into the sunny afternoon to buy coffee. When we got back, they headed for the elevator. The newsroom is on the third floor. They ended up following me up the stairs and could barely breathe by the time they arrived. Then my desk-mate offered me some M&Ms. I took a handful to nibble. He took a similar handful and dropped them all in his mouth at once - and who stops at one mouthful of chocolate?

Why don't people notice what they're doing amidst all the diet talk?

(This post from Harriet Brown spurred today's thought process.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

good grief

I've got to stop googling myself. Look at the scary images lurking online...


This is why I LOVE the WSJ. What a great piece of writing.

A Knight's Tale: Modern Jousting Sees Renaissance

by Max Colchester

LIÈGE, Belgium -- Fred Piraux has been grooming his horse Thorgal three hours a day, polishing replica 15th-century armor and taking lessons in medieval dancing.

Next month, the 38-year-old Belgian police instructor will level his lance at a fearsome opponent, Frenchman Tino Lombardi, in a bid for the top spot with the International Jousting League.

"It's not about the prize you win. It's about hearing your rivals' wives weep," says Mr. Piraux. A squire helps the chevalier squeeze into a metal breastplate. Mr. Piraux hoists himself onto his chocolate-brown steed and gallops through the fields on the outskirts of this industrial Belgian town.

The advent of firearms ended the medieval sport of jousting in the 17th century. But the Internet has resurrected it and, today, mounted men in full armor charge at each other for glory and global rank.

About 1,000 people world-wide take part in this sport, estimates the International Jousting Association, though only 200 have the equipment and expertise to joust competitively. The International Jousting League, a separate organization, has 47 jousters from San Diego to Paris who compete at castles and fields around the world.

A far cry from the mock re-enactments at Renaissance fairs, competitive jousting is not for the faint of heart or the impecunious.

On the field, jousters are judged on their ability to smash a lance against a crest the size of a dinner plate located on an opponent's left shoulder. The lances weigh 7.7 pounds, are 10 feet 5 inches in length and have screw-on balsa tips that shatter on impact with armor. To win points, the knights have to break their lances. They often also fracture hands in the process. Many jousters are tossed off their horses, but, to date, nobody in these recent contests has been killed. The most high-profile death was that of King Henry II of France, who died jousting in 1559.

As in medieval times, there are no universal jousting rules. At some competitions organized by the Jousting League, knights win points for their success in wooing damsels with a post-joust speech and medieval dance.

This year, Mr. Piraux bought a new $600 medieval dance outfit -- a red embroidered pleated coat with puffed shoulders, a matching doublet, hosiery and black riding boots. Despite his new duds, Mr. Piraux was outdanced by a U.S. competitor at a recent competition in Belgium.

Mr. Piraux has also spent about $39,000 this year in housing and upkeep for Thorgal and his second horse, Organdy, and on new steel-plate armor and a yellow-and-red wooden crest with a tower logo.

Loyal Servants

In addition, Mr. Piraux pays for the services of a team of loyal servants, including a herald who announces him at tournaments and two squires who are always on hand to help their master.

Olivier Aujer, a 22-year-old Belgian student, helps look after Thorgal and helps Mr. Piraux to dress. Mr. Piraux says he sometimes asks a friend to infiltrate opponents' camps to get them drunk before tournaments.

Since there's glory but no prize money in winning tournaments, Mr. Piraux moonlights to finance his jousting activities. A Belgian company recently hired him to joust before a group of visiting colleagues from Norway. Mr. Piraux has also appeared, clad in full armor, in an ad for a Dutch insurance company.

Sixteen jousters are expected to compete July 12 at the tournament near the Castle of Filain in eastern France. Many fans expect the 6-foot-tall Belgian police instructor to carry the day.

"He's one of the best in the world," says Callum Forbes, a 48-year-old personal financial planner from New Zealand, who has jousted with Mr. Piraux. "He puts full energy into it...[but] is really calm in the saddle."

Mr. Piraux is hungry for revenge against Mr. Lombardi. The 43-year-old French former judo instructor beat him last year at the same competition. "Fred Piraux doesn't scare me," says Mr. Lombardi, who is now employed as a state social worker in Vesoul, in eastern France. "I've won this tournament three times in a row. Why should this year be different?"

"I let Lombardi win," scoffed Mr. Piraux, as he set off for another practice round in the countryside near Liège. "I didn't want him to start crying."

Thorgal, Mr. Piraux's horse, is named after a Viking character in a comic-book series. On this recent morning, Mr. Piraux steered him energetically as he jabbed his lance through large white hoops held in a squire's hands. Speeding up to full gallop, the Belgian jouster then directed his lance at sparring partner Luc Petillot. From a standing start, the contestants ride between about 100 and 130 feet toward each other before they meet. Each pass takes about 10 seconds and there are usually three per match. A tournament is likely to go on for two days.

"It's about proving that you have still got what it takes," Mr. Piraux said as he unbuckled a pair of knee-high black leather boots after dismounting.

Later, enjoying a hot dog with his two squires, Mr. Piraux explained how the Jousting League, of which he's a board member, is trying to expand the sport's popularity. For example, there has been a growing effort to recruit women, said Mr. Piraux. The league now has six women knights in its ranks.

Tournament organizers would like to lure more Asian jousters as well, but competitions in such places as Hong Kong and South Korea have been problematic because the local horses are too small to carry men in armor.

Drawing More Fans

To attract more viewers, the league is also considering moving contests away from castles and into town centers. More than 3,500 people turned up to watch a joust Mr. Piraux organized near Liège recently, so he's now thinking about hosting a competition in an indoor ice rink.

As the sport draws more fans, there is talk of introducing a knightly game of chess to competitions organized by the league.

Speaking in medieval dialect, however, is out of the question, says Mr. Piraux.

"It would just descend into farce."

slow news day

I had two profiles sitting in the system, and they published both today. The only problem I have with the fact that I enjoy this sort of writing and that others (and bosses) like reading it is I'm afraid I'm not cut out to be a serious news reporter. My stock answer to compliments has become, "It's not hard to write nice things about nice people."

I like to think there will be a niche for my writing in the world and that, in a sense, I'm a serious writer. But I wish I was better at the nuts-and-bolts, grill-sources-and-sift-through-docs-and-find-the-wrongdoing reporting than I am.

Number One:

Ledyard - Outgoing Gallup Hill Principal Stephen Panikoff's favorite job-related anecdote is about a sixth-grader who seemed beyond help, but who was listening to him.

He “gave me the roughest time in terms of behavior and constant discipline,” Panikoff, who was an elementary school principal in Ledyard for 33 years, said of the student.

When he graduated around 2000, Panikoff said, “he came back to thank me for believing in him, that he could be a student.” That student is now a third-grade teacher.

”That I could've never written a script for,” he said.

Panikoff, 61, was able to watch that student and countless others grow and thrive, across his three-decade career. Since 1975, Panikoff has worked as principal at all four of the town's elementary schools. Though retiring from Ledyard, he starts a new job at a Rhode Island charter school in July.

Current Gales Ferry-Juliet Long assistant principal Jennifer Byars will replace Panikoff at Gallup Hill with a new part-time assistant principal. Gallup Hill assistant principal Philip Genova will become assistant principal at Gales Ferry-Juliet Long Schools.

”Steve is like my family, and I'm really going to miss him,” said Mary Cherry, who has been Panikoff's assistant - and his voicemail - for all but six months of the last 17 years. Each said they can read the other's mind.

”He is a truly good man,” Cherry said, perched on a child-sized chair in the nurse's office, a quiet place to talk in the summer. “He is honest and compassionate, and there is nothing more important to him than people.”

Panikoff said he enjoys working with young children because he can make a sizeable positive impact on them.

“I get up on Monday morning, and I want to be at work,” he said.

”We try to catch kids being good,” he added.

He loved having little troublemakers call their parents from his office to tell them about something positive they did. The parents would be worried at first, hearing the child calling from the principal's office, but everyone would soon be smiling. Cherry said she was impressed by his ability to make it clear to students he was addressing their behavior, not their selves.

Panikoff taught in West Haven for five years before deciding to make the switch to administration. He had never been east of the New Haven area.

He applied to every school district in the state, he said, and Ledyard responded. He meant to leave after a few years but never did.

The sense of connection he feels to generations of Ledyard youth was clear in his response to a question about how many children he has.

”At the school?” he replied.

Panikoff - who has two kids in their twenties - lives with his wife in Groton Long Point, roller blades with a senior-citizen contingent, and keeps a desk drawer full of chocolate. He has a gentle demeanor and is a good listener. “We've all come across people in our professional lives,” Genova, his assistant principal, said. “They'll sit there and they'll nod their head, but they're not really getting it. Steve gets it."

And, number two:

New London - The bookshelves are stuffed with religious tomes, but the center table in Rabbi Carl Astor's study at Beth El Synagogue supports stacks of beginner Hebrew and Spanish text books, surrounding a nearly empty bottle of Manischewitz.

The wine stays closed Thursday mornings, but the books' contents are imbibed as Astor and the Rev. Daniel Martino of the First Hispanic Baptist Church give one another language lessons.

The two have been studying together since January, when Martino approached Astor at a New London Clergy Association meeting. The rest is history in the making.

One hour is set aside for Spanish, and the other for Biblical Hebrew. God and life, in three languages, sneak into the discussions of verbs and gender agreement.

Martino's church runs services in Spanish.

“I thought we were so different but, in essence, we're not,” said Martino of what he learned when he started to decode some Hebrew.

”Everything that you're learning is the same stuff that he learned,” said Astor, “he” being Jesus Christ.

Conjugating the Spanish verb meaning “to pray” at a recent session segued into a chat on different ways of speaking to God, and how different religions have distinct vocabularies - asking, begging, praising - for discussing prayer.

”This is a whole new world that's finally opening up to me,” said Astor, who has lived in New London for nearly 30 years but was never able to have in-depth conversations with Spanish-speaking neighbors. Martino said studying Hebrew has made him look at the Bible with a new, deeper perspective.

Astor was working on conjugating present-tense stem-changing verbs in Spanish, and Martino was conjugating Hebrew verbs in the past tense. Sitting side by side, the pair took turns quizzing one another, offering English phrases for translation.

When Martino had trouble with the Hebrew, Astor translated it into Spanish whenever he could. Sometimes, they bypassed English altogether, translating the sentence, “David ruled Jerusalem, and the people listened to David,” directly from Hebrew to Spanish.

It took Martino three months to learn to read the Hebrew alphabet, but he got it by Passover, when he read a passage at one of Astor's seders.

Astor may not have needed to learn to read a new alphabet, but Martino still asked him to pause during a passage to work on pronunciation.

”You read well, but too fast,” Martino chided.

”I know - it's hard for you Spanish speakers to keep up,” Astor replied with a grin.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

history around the corner

I live right near the newly-relocated Kelo house, the pink cottage that became a symbol of the evils of eminent domain in the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London.

How did I learn this? I wrote about it for today's paper:

New London - Avner Gregory's new home on Franklin Street sticks out from the houses around it. His house has a stone stake in the front yard that says “Not for sale.” Also, it's an eye-grabbing shade of pink.

But 36 Franklin St., which was originally Susette Kelo's home in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and became the focal point of a Supreme Court case that sought - and failed - to save her neighborhood, is just as much a symbol as it is a house.

Its reopening at its new location Saturday afternoon drew a crowd comprising fellow plaintiffs and locals as well as activist visitors from throughout the region. Institute for Justice senior attorneys Scott Bullock and Dana Berliner traveled from Virginia for the occasion. Bullock had argued Kelo v. City of New London before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

They all thronged the property, pervading the quiet street with anti-eminent domain spirit to the tune of resident Dan Gross singing “Shame Shame Eminent Domain” in the backyard.

Bullock “insisted the house should be pink,” said Gregory, a local landlord and preservationist, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the front steps of his new residence.

”I don't like pink!” Gregory joked, shortly before cutting the pink ribbon stretched between banisters. Kelo, who now lives in Groton, stood beside him.

The last portions of Fort Trumbull's working-class neighborhood were taken after the Court ruled that the city had the right to use eminent domain to acquire property for private economic development that would benefit the public by bringing jobs and tax revenues to the city. Since the decision, 42 states have passed amendments or laws giving property owners facing eminent domain more protection, according to the Institute for Justice.

”The Supreme Court loss energized the entire country and created a backlash that changed everything,” said Berliner, one of the attorneys. “Not a single state has adopted the Kelo decision for its own, and that says something.”

After the ribbon cutting, attendees were invited to tour the Kelo house. There was also a pink, house-shaped cake which, like the original, had “Not for sale” written on it in icing.

”I think it's great,” Kelo said of her cottage finding a new address. It was removed from its Fort Trumbull site in pieces and reassembled on Franklin Street.

”It's unfortunate we couldn't save everyone's house,” she said.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

does this mean i have the world?

I wished yesterday - and every other day, but some more painfully than others - that there was a place, like in college or grade school, where I could go and most of my friends would be there. There isn't. My friends are everywhere, a point emphasized when I read a delightful blog post from a friend who just began a year studying in Syria. Good friends, off the top of my head, live in:

Syria, UAE, England/Switzerland, Palestine, California, New York, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona

Perhaps I should feel lucky, because my friends are a bunch of exceptional people, the sort who save the world and then write about it in beautiful prose. As one friend and I recently discussed over lunch, our social networks come from the small pool of the cultured, over-educated and cosmopolitan. The world as peopled in my experience feels normal to me but is far from a norm. (My new pal in New London thinks I'm a catch, and I keep trying to explain that all my friends are like me, but even better.)

Perhaps I should feel lucky, but I miss my friends.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

a.o. scott :)

This is part of his review of the new Mike Myers film:

What is the opposite of a belly laugh? An interesting question, in a way, and to hear lines like “I think I just made a happy wee-wee” or “I’m making diarrhea noises in my cup” or to watch apprentice gurus attack one another with urine-soaked mops is to grasp the answer. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not opposed to infantile, regressive, scatological humor. Indeed, I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Or maybe a glutton. So it’s not that I object to the idea of, say, witnessing elephants copulate on the ice in the middle of a Stanley Cup hockey match, or seeing a dwarf sent flying over the same ice by the shock of defibrillator paddles. But it will never be enough simply to do such things. They must be done well.

internet karma?

Some colleagues convinced me, after a couple weeks of prodding, to download Scramble. As though I need another reason to be distracted, or another widget clogging that damned Web site.

I beat them all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

senior profile #2

Todd Rapoport

North Stonington - When the school board gave Todd Rapoport an award at a recent meeting, Wheeler High School Principal Steve Bickford stood to tell board and audience members about the graduating senior's achievements.

Bickford needed a list to keep everything straight.

Four-time class president. Captain of the basketball and golf teams. National Honor Society member. Middle school tutor. Volunteer basketball coach. Barbecue-sauce creator.

”I think they all feel too much pressure to live up to being a Todd,” said business teacher Linda Farinha, who has taught Rapoport for four years, of other students she teaches. She and others noted that Rapoport is respectful to elders and excels at cultivating a sense of inclusiveness among his classmates.

”He's very outgoing, very comfortable with different age ranges of people and types of people,” Farinha said.

Or as Rapoport's mother, Cathy Rapoport, puts it: “He's very easy to parent.”

Rapoport, 18, is overscheduled - but not overwhelmed - between school, extracurriculars and fitting his favorite activity, basketball, into a part of every day. He loves the sport because it's never repetitious or dull, he said.

”You're involved in everything in the game. You're playing defense; you're playing offense,” he said. Players work with different teammates and encounter unique situations every moment.

Basketball is Rapoport's life in game form.

Rapoport enjoys the uncertainty so much that he plans to open his own business after college. With this future goal in mind, his mandatory senior-year project paired him with a local restaurateur. The result was “The Creation of a Signature Barbeque Sauce.”

The Wheeler senior project, in its first year, required students to create their own independent projects that included working closely with faculty and community mentors as well as writing a paper and making a presentation.

Rapoport worked with Jon Kodama, a North Stonington resident who runs five area restaurants, including Steak Loft in Mystic. They dreamed up a project in which Rapoport explored people's barbecue-sauce taste preferences with a goal toward making a sauce to use at Steak Loft.

”What I told him was if he came up with a good sauce, we would produce it, or have it produced,” Kodama said. “I don't know about commercially successful, but it would be successful in terms of people being interested in it,” he said, as “a lot of people are interested in local products.”

Without prior cooking experience, Rapoport mixed, combined and tested in his mother's kitchen. He surveyed the Wheeler High School/Middle School faculty to learn their favorite brands and flavor combinations. He even held a taste-test session at Steak Loft in the winter that drew 16 teachers to test 15 of his concoctions.

”They might have had palate fatigue by the end, but they seemed to be having a good time,” Kodama said.

Rapoport was enjoying the experience too. He is entering Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall, where he was recruited to play on the basketball team. He hopes to major in management engineering before starting his own business.

Perhaps he'll begin with barbecue sauce. The senior project is over, but Rapoport continues tinkering with his recipe, trying to recreate the whole thing without using any existing brands in the ingredients. When he finds his flavor, he already has a name selected: “Sweety Todd's BBQ."