Sunday, August 27, 2006
If you've ever been pulled over by the police, empathy for the uniformed figure striding toward your car was probably the last thing on your mind at the time.
But from the officers' perspective, every time they flick on those flashing lights to snag another speeder, it's a dice roll. They don't know what they might encounter next -- could be theatrical tears, elaborate excuses, angry curses, or even a genuine medical emergency.
Patrol officers with the Warren County Sheriff's Department have plenty of stories to tell about the ways people react to being pulled over for traffic violations.
"Oh, man, I make people cry ... apparently, I'm intimidating," said Patrol Officer Eric Mazzeo, sounding baffled. "I make guys cry, girls cry, old people cry. I feel bad. I'm very nice to people!"
He's heard plenty of reasons for speeding, he said, including "the explosive diarrhea excuse" several times. The other officers nodded -- they've heard that one, too. It can be hard to know what to believe.
"One girl told me she was in labor," said Patrol Officer Jason Martindale. "She didn't look pregnant, but I figured I didn't want to be the one delivering the baby, so I let her go."
Don't get any ideas, though -- "it's an emergency" excuses don't always pass muster with these officers. Martindale also had an experience with a speeder who claimed "he had to go to the bathroom real bad," but that didn't get him off the hook.
"I wrote him a ticket anyway," Martindale said. "I took my time, too."
So what makes the difference between a warning and a ticket?
"The mood I'm in that day," said Patrol Officer Michael Cote, with a slight smile.
Contrary to popular myth, however, the officers said they have no quota for speeding tickets. Some officers may write one or two a day, while others only write a few each month, said Lt. Robert Smith.
"Some people just like doing it more than others," he explained with a shrug.
Another thing people might not realize, Smith added, is that officers are not allowed to base a ticket on previous violations. They also have no control over the amount of a fine -- that's decided by a judge, later.
Personally, he said, there have been times when he would have made a different choice about issuing a ticket if the driver had been more open about their circumstances. For example, one driver he caught using her cell phone turned out to be making funeral preparations for her father, but didn't tell him this until after he'd written the ticket. Once an officer has started the paperwork, he can't go back.
"We're human, too," he said. "I guess people don't think about that sometimes."
Some of the best stories have become jokes around the office -- have you heard the one about the priest?
"I pulled over a priest who said he was on his way to a funeral. I said, well, what's the hurry, then?" Patrol Sgt. Michael Webster said, drawing laughter from his colleagues.
W.W. Pearson, a retired state trooper who now helps the Sheriff's Department with transports, also once encountered a speeding priest. The man said he was on his way to see a parishioner in the hospital.
"I told him it was dangerous, and he said, 'Well, I've got God on my side,'" Pearson remembered. "I said, well, in the event that you're in an accident, he may get hurt too! But I didn't give him a ticket. I didn't want to mess with his boss."
Speeder's Etiquette 101
-- Pull over as soon as possible if you notice flashing lights behind you. Officers wait to turn the lights on until they have determined that it is a safe place to pull over, so you won't get away with the "but I didn't think this was a good spot" excuse for making them chase you.
-- Roll down your window and remain seated in your car. In some cases involving multiple violations, an officer may ask you to wait with them in the police car while they do the paperwork, but sit tight unless instructed otherwise.
-- Keep your hands visible. Fishing around in your pockets makes an officer nervous, since you could be reaching for a weapon. Your license and registration should be in the car with you, but wait for their request to get it out.
-- Be polite and honest. It may not get you off the hook, but a nasty attitude pretty much guarantees you'll get a ticket.
(Source: Warren County Sheriff's Department)
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Jenny Pronto's car smells like french fries. Or chicken tenders. Or -- is that the smell of shrimp wafting from her exhaust pipe?
Could be, depending on what foods folks ordered from the fryers at Mr. Bill's ice cream and fast-food stand on any given day this summer.
Pronto has been picking up all of the used fry oil from Mr. Bill's -- a summer-only casual eatery on Route 9 that features carhop service and a giant statue of a guy holding a hamburger -- for almost three years.
She filters the oil and stores it in 5-gallon jugs in her parents' garage, pouring it as needed into a tank in the trunk of her 22-year-old diesel-engine Mercedes.
"It actually runs better on vegetable oil," she said. "It's smoother, you can feel the difference."
Pronto, 21, will drive to Ithaca in a few weeks to begin her junior year at Cornell University. She's majoring in -- ready? -- "environmental engineering and the science of natural and environmental systems, with a focus on sustainable development."
In other words, there's a reason she doesn't just fill up at the gas pump like the rest of us.
"I use vegetable oil as fuel because it has no sulfur emissions, which can cause acid rain, and it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide that would naturally be released if the plants were decomposing," she explained.
Her interest in environmental issues is more than academic, it's also faith-based. She is a member of the Adirondack Friends Meeting in South Glens Falls.
"As a Quaker, I've always learned that we've been given God's earth to take care of," she said. "Reducing our footprint, or impact on the earth, is part of that."
She bought her car from someone who had already rigged up the necessary tank and hoses to convert the diesel engine to a veggie-oil engine, but at over 200,000 miles, it may be nearing the end of its life. She has already decided that the next car she buys will be another diesel.
"Any diesel car can be converted to run on vegetable oil," she said. "You can bring it to a mechanic, or even buy a kit online."
The engine must run on diesel as it is warming up, and right before it shuts off, but as soon as she flips a switch near the dash, the vegetable oil flows to the engine. It gets roughly the same mileage as gasoline.
Bill Smith, owner of Mr. Bill's, was more than happy to grant Pronto's request when she stopped by one day to ask if he had any used vegetable oil, since he had been paying about $150 a month for a recycler to pick it up.
"I think it's great," he said. "It's good for the both of us. She's a college student, so it helps her save money on fuel."
He isn't ready to switch his own vehicle to veggie power anytime soon, he said, but Pronto's example has gotten him thinking.
"You know, the way prices are going, who knows?" he said. "I may buy a company truck that's a diesel next time, or power my electricity from a diesel generator, so I could try it, too."
Pronto is proud of her unusual car, as her bumper stickers indicate, but she's kept a sense of humor about it as well. She still laughs about the time she had to call a tow truck because she forgot to let the engine warm up fully before switching the fuel supply to oil.
"The guy who came was like -- what's the matter, didya get a fry stuck in there?" she said.
For years, Mary Lou Willits was haunted by the "graveyard of machinery" on the grounds of the Slate Valley Museum in Granville.
Willits became director of the museum about six years ago, and has been brainstorming ever since about ways to protect and utilize the pieces of 19th-century slate-quarrying equipment donated to the collection by a local quarry.
The machinery is too large and unwieldy to bring into the museum building, so it sits outside, exposed to the elements.
In 2004, her brainstorm burst into a solution when the museum received a $160,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Scenic Byways program to construct a year-round visitor and interpretive center.
Combined with an additional $40,000 that the museum is still raising, the money will also fund an addition to shelter the machinery and turn it into an interactive "heavy lifting" exhibit, Willits said.
"The exhibit will be about the human and technological history of moving slate to market," she explained. "We want to include opportunities for people to actually move things, lift things, using the advantage of simple machines ... maybe roll a cart of slate along a track."
The museum will also add a covered picnic area facing the Mettowee River, providing a resting point to hikers, bikers, skiiers and other people using the Lakes to Locks Passage -- a national scenic byway that runs along the common waterways of New York, Vermont, and Quebec.
As they picnic, they will be able to learn about the history of the area -- called the Slate Valley Corridor -- from interpretive panels and literature provided by the museum.
The Scenic Byways grant was an ideal opportunity, because it fulfilled the goals of many parties at once, said Willits.
The museum has been working with other community members to help develop the Village of Granville Comprehensive Plan and a Lakes to Locks corridor management plan.
The project is still in the design phase, but construction is to begin next spring and be completed by 2008.
"We're pretty excited about it," Willits said. "We see this as another opportunity to tell the story of the industry. Slate had a huge impact, not only economically, but culturally, in this region."
IF YOU GO
The Slate Valley Museum, 17 Water St., Granville, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.Admission is $4 for adults; free for age 12 and younger and slate company employees and their families.For more information, see www.slatevalleymuseum.org or call 642-1417.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Published in The Post-Star (D1)
Former Vice President Al Gore preached a message of fire and brimstone -- or at least, rising temperatures and melting ice caps -- in his recent documentary about global warming, but the people in America's pews have proved to be a tough audience.
One national group, calling itself "Inconvenient Christians," offered free tickets through the Internet to any "committed Christian" who promised to take another Christian to see the film, called "An Inconvenient Truth."
It was an effort to change a stubborn unwillingness by most mainline and evangelical churches to address what is largely seen as a liberal cause.
The effort wasn't especially effective on a local level, since the film only played in small theaters that did not accept Internet tickets, but many Christians around the nation accepted the offer and left positive comments about the film on the group's Web site.
Local pastors said global warming just isn't something they think about much.
"Global warming? That's generally not a hot topic in our church," said Rev. Steve Van Dixhorn, pastor of Pine Knolls Alliance Church in South Glens Falls. "I think that's true in most generally theologically conservative congregations."
He hadn't heard of "An Inconvenient Truth," but said he would be willing to watch it.
At the Queensbury Church of Christ, a "nondenominational, Bible-based" congregation of about 50 members, Rev. Logan Robertson said he doesn't focus much on global warming or other environmental issues.
"It's good to be mindful of those things that affect the atmosphere in which we live, but it's not a real concern, not first on the list," he said. "It's not as high a priority as relationship with God and one another."
If Gore's cinematic lecture is to be believed, however, global warming should be at the top of everyone's priority lists. Among other claims in the film, he states that within a matter of decades, global warming will contribute to more than 300,000 deaths annually, drive more than a million species to extinction, and obliterate many coastal communities.
But as Gore himself demonstrates, global warming has become a highly politicized issue. Perhaps that's why so many evangelical Christians are skeptical about it, said Van Dixhorn.
"They don't want to align themselves with people who worship creation instead of the Creator...people who believe there is no God, no distinction between a human and a tree, or a human and a whale," he said.
Rev. Rich Weihing of United Methodist Church in Queensbury agreed that global warming is so "politically charged" that it's easier for pastors to avoid the issue. But he also hopes to "start a conversation" within his church about what it means to respond to global warming and other environmental issues from a Christian perspective.
"We always respond to immediate disasters, like tsunamis -- who's going to argue with that?" he said. "Global warming is such a big thing, and in many ways it's technical, that it's hard to know what you can do."
At the Adirondack Friends Meeting, a Quaker congregation in Glens Falls, Rev. Regina Haag said her congregation is more open to discussing such issues because they see stewardship as a vital part of faith.
"All things are parts of God's creation -- the air and sky, rocks and minerals, animals and plants, the human race -- and so all natural resources given to us by God are to be held as a sacred trust," she said. "Global warming is...a warning that we do need to be attentive to all parts of creation in order to live and work together for good."
Saturday, August 19, 2006
When actor Mel Gibson was pulled over for driving drunk in Malibu last month, he put new meaning in the term "slurred speech."
"Are you a Jew?" he asked the arresting officer, adding some expletives as he declared: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."
This apparently racist diatribe by a public figure quickly gained momentum in the press, especially since Gibson had already been accused of anti-Semitism after he produced "The Passion," an extremely graphic film depicting the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews. About the same time, Gibson's father publicly denied the reality of the Holocaust, and Gibson did little to distance himself from that view.
When "The Passion" came to local movie theaters in 2004, pastor Steve Van Dixhorn urged his congregation at Pine Knolls Alliance, a conservative Christian church in South Glens Falls, to see the film.
After reading about Gibson's latest comments, Van Dixhorn said last week that his view of Gibson's work is now tinged with "some sadness," but he would still recommend that people see the film.
"It had some interesting interpretation, and was very emotional," he said. "I think in some ways, the movie now has more meaning, because the message was that Jesus died for people who are pretty broken and messed up...and (Gibson) is making a statement that he's somebody like that."
Gibson issued several thorough apologies for his statements in the days after his arrest, but many Jewish leaders around the nation have said they remain unconvinced.
"He may have retracted his remarks for publicity reasons, but...it's much easier to apologize than to refrain from doing something. The damage has been done. It's not like it was isolated from any other statements or actions on his part," said Rabbi Cathy Nemiroff, who replaced retired Rabbi Richard Sobel this month at Temple Beth-El in Glens Falls.
She's never been a Gibson fan, she said, and intentionally skipped seeing "The Passion."
"At the time, I wondered about his motivations for making the film, and I still wonder," she said. "I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it seems to point in the direction of his being anti-Semitic."
But Rev. Rich Weihing, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Queensbury, sees a sliver of silver lining in the cloud of ugly speech hanging over Gibson's head.
"Part of me wishes he would keep his stuff to himself, but there's part of this that's a gift because it makes us look at the stuff that might be in us," he said. "There's plenty of darkness within each of us, too."
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Bakers wake at dawn to create the bounty of fresh breads, pastries and bagels that lure carb-hungry consumers to many local markets and cafes.
But by sunset, there are almost always some leftovers.
What happens to all that surplus food?
"We eat it," joked Dan Murphy, owner of Uncommon Grounds cafes in Saratoga Springs and Albany. "No, just kidding. The biggest food item we have left over is bagels. It's almost impossible to predict exactly how much we're going to need, and we don't want to run out. We probably bake 60 to 80 dozen a day, and usually have several dozen left."
Day-old bagels are bagged and sold for half-price, he said, and by the next day, anyone can take them for free from a basket at the front of the store. After two days, any remaining bagels are thrown out, but that rarely proves necessary.
"I think some people are becoming regular second-day bagel grabbers," he said.
In Queensbury, volunteers from churches and food pantries head to Panera at about 10 each night to pick up any bread items that did not sell that day, said assistant manager Rose Charron.
"We bake at least $1,500 worth of product each day, and how much is left over depends on the weather -- if it rains, for example, we get hit hard. But usually we have a few hundred dollars worth of product left at the end," she said.
At the Bread Basket in Saratoga Springs, up to 1,000 individual items are baked each day, and none of them contain preservatives, said owner Matt Tallman. Loaves of bread stay on the shelf for 24 hours at the most, while the pastry cases -- filled with things like chocolate almond croissants, cinnamon bear claws, and cranberry-orange scones -- start from scratch each morning.
"We usually freeze the leftovers and donate them to the soup kitchen or some sort of charity fundraiser, like a school booster club bake sale," Tallman said. "But when we run out of freezer space, we have to throw out about 20 percent of what we make."
It's a little easier to manage inventory at Putnam Market, said co-owner Gloria Griskowitz, because surplus grocery items can be converted into prepared foods at the in-store deli.
"For example, if we get in too much chicken breast and don't think we'll be able to sell it all, we can convert it to chicken salad or soup while it's still at optimal freshness," she said.
The market donates breads, cookies, cakes, and other grocery items that are "past optimal freshness" to the local soup kitchen, but some waste is unavoidable for the sake of food safety, Griskowitz said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it's close to 15 to 20 percent of the food that has to go into the trash," she said.
Local grocery chains like Price Chopper, Hannaford's and Stewart's donate their about-to-perish produce and baked goods to places like the Economic Opportunity Council's soup kitchen and food pantry in Saratoga Springs. There, the food is given away to people in need or used to make free lunches for the soup kitchen, explained Lillian McCarthy, director of community services for the council.
Volunteers sort through the donated produce to pick out any moldy or rotten items -- but even those don't go to waste, said McCarthy.
"We put anything moldy aside, and on Saturdays we have a gentleman who is a pig farmer pick it up," she said. "We try desperately not to throw anything away."
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Michelle Stewart dreams of spending just one day at a store without peeking at a price tag and having to tell her kids, 'No.'
"It's kind of sad, but I think a lot of people feel that way," she said. "I'm just so tired of struggling."
Her husband, Charles, makes about twice the state's minimum wage of $6.75 an hour as a dump truck driver, and often works up to 25 hours of overtime a week. They do their best to stretch his paycheck across a wide canyon of expenses each week, but there never seems to be enough for their family of four in Hudson Falls.
"He gets paid every Friday, and by about Tuesday, after paying rent and some bills and doing the shopping, there's about $60 left," she said.
Christina Mattison of Fort Ann is in a similar situation. She earns about $7.50 an hour as a cashier for a retail chain, and her fiancee, James Mariani, earns twice that much as an overnight retail stocker. But their combined wages are barely enough to cover household expenses, let alone pay a baby-sitter for their four children -- so they work opposite shifts, staggering their sleep schedules as needed.
"We've been struggling a lot lately, especially with gas prices going up," Mattison said. "This winter's going to be tough, because we have fuel heat, but I don't even want to think about that yet."
According to the government's definition of poverty, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, neither of these families are poor. The official poverty threshold for a family of four is $19,806 in annual income, which translates to a full-time hourly wage of about $9.50 in a single-income family. For a family with four children, like Mattison's and Mariani's, the threshold rises to about $26,000, or two workers earning $6.25 per hour. They are well past that mark.
But in recent years, many economists have pointed out that the poverty rate is calculated with an overly simplistic formula that hasn't changed since the 1960s, and does not include the effect of factors like taxes, home ownership, health care and child care costs.
"There's almost no place in America where you can live on $20,000 as a family of four...you need at least $36,000 to pay basic expenses," said Amy Glasmeier, director of the Poverty in America project at Penn State University, which developed a city-specific Living Wage Calculator based on census data and economic statistics.
The more complex reality, she said, is that a large swath of the population is barely getting by, making too much to qualify for public assistance but not enough to cover all their expenses.
They may not have not crossed the threshold into poverty, but they live on its doorstep.
In Michelle's words, "it's better to be poorer than poor or richer than rich" than stuck in the middle. For example, when Charles was briefly unemployed earlier this year, the Stewarts applied for food stamps. But for a family of four, the maximum gross monthly income that qualifies for assistance is currently $2097. They were $12 over the limit even though he had not worked for two weeks.
"I can't tell you how many people say things to me like, 'People ought to be able to get by on that kind of money,' but they don't do the math!" Glasmeier said. "A lot of people don't do the math because it's too scary. They don't want to know how close they are to the edge."
Stewart is all too familiar with the math. She knows exactly what it costs to pay the rent ($900 a month for a small three-bedroom house, and they're still catching up on past months), fill the gas tank on their '89 Chevy Blazer ($62 and rising), make three healthy meals for her family every day (around $125 a week), pay the car insurance ($187 a month), and outfit their two kids with school clothes and supplies (at least $400 each).
"My husband makes decent money, and we're still not making it," Michelle said. "So I don't know how any family could survive on minimum wage. The cost of living here is just so high."
Minimum wage is higher in New York than in many other states -- it will rise to $7.15 an hour on Jan. 1, while the federal rate remains stuck at $5.15 -- but it's still a far cry from what many people consider a living wage.
Michelle thinks it's getting harder and harder for families like her own to make it, and she's not alone.
"Lower middle income workers, which is what I would call anyone making under $50,000 a year, are feeling really significant constraints based on changing national economic circumstances," Glasmeier said. "They're the first to feel the effect of things like rising gas prices and higher interest rates."
Such workers, she added, are also the least likely to have any sort of financial safety net if they meet with unexpected costs.
"In some cases and in some places, these are families who find themselves at the end of the month with insufficient money, being forced to make choices between making their payments and buying food," she said. "It's far more dire, and far more precarious, than the American public would ever care to believe."
No net to fall into
Glasmeier describes the growing gap between America's rich and poor in terms of income brackets, comparing the lowest-earning 20 percent to the highest-earning 20 percent of the population. Between 1979 and 2003, bottom-bracket incomes rose 14 percent, or about $17,000. In the same time period, the incomes of the highest earners rose 200 percent, or about $625,000.
"Which group would you like to be in?" she remarked dryly.
In other highly developed countries, she said, there is a sense of obligation to the poor, but the American attitude toward poverty is less forgiving.
"The American ethos seems to be that everyone deserves a chance, but you're supposed to make it on your own," she said. "But what happens if something that you have no control over suddenly turns your life upside down?"
That's what happened to the Stewarts. Two years ago, faced with nearly $50,000 in bills after Michelle was hospitalized for a week with no health insurance, the couple filed for personal bankruptcy.
Michelle has applied for at least 10 office jobs in the last few months, and has been told she is underqualified, overqualified, or just "not able to commit enough," which she attributes to telling prospective employers that her children are her top priority.
If she does find work, she worries about leaving her children, now 11 and 14, on their own for too long. Child care can cost $150 or more a week.
"When you're earning like $9 an hour and subtracting child care and gas costs, it almost isn't worth it," she said.
She knows several families who have moved to the Carolinas and Florida, where they've heard wages are higher, taxes are lower, and the cost of living is cheaper. The Stewarts are considering a similar move, although they don't want to uproot their family.
James and Christina, who will marry next spring, have set their sights on something closer to home -- the new Advanced Micro Devices plant moving into Malta. James, who has some college education and is a certified computer technician, hopes he can to get a better-paying job there, so Christina can afford to stay home with the kids.
"I'd like to be able to provide them with everything they need, so they never have to worry," he said.
The Stewarts are less optimistic, although they haven't given up. They doubt they will ever be able to save for retirement or send their kids to college.
"It's kind of a joke in our house -- we'll say we're going to write up our wills, and our son will say, 'What are you going to leave me, Dad's work pants?'" Michelle said. "I guess all I can really leave them is the hope that they won't be like us. That they'll make it big."
CALCULATING A LIVING WAGE
1 Adult / 1 Adult, 1 Child / 2 Adults / 2 Adults, 1 Child / 2 Adults, 2 Children
Food $156 $273 $335 $452 $570
Child Care $0 $411 $0 $411 $823
Medical $86 $225 $225 $266 $307
Housing $474 $630 $501 $630 $630
Transportation $127 $127 $127 $127 $127
Other $238 $341 $316 $409 $453
Monthly After-Tax Income That's Required:
$1,081 $2,008 $1,504 $2,296 $2,910
Annual After-Tax Income That's Required:
$12,972 $24,099 $18,053 $27,551 $34,917
Payroll Tax $1,212 $2,252 $1,687 $2,575 $3,263
State Tax $585 $1,088 $815 $1,243 $1,576
Federal Tax $1,078 $2,002 $1,500 $2,289 $2,901
Gross Annual Income That's Required:
$15,847 $29,441 $22,054 $33,658 $42,656
The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year).
The state minimum wage is the same for all individuals, regardless of how many dependents they may have.
The poverty rate is typically quoted as gross annual income. We have converted it to an hourly wage for the sake of comparison.
Wages that are less than the living wage are shown in red.
1 Adult / 1 Adult, 1 Child / 2 Adults / 2 Adults, 1 Child / 2 Adults, 2 Children
Living Wage (per hour)
$7.62 $14.15 $10.60 $16.18 $20.51
Minimum Wage (per hour)
$5.15 $5.15 $5.15 $5.15 $5.15
Poverty Wage (per hour)
$4.73 $6.38 $6.03 $7.43 $9.39
Source: The Living Wage Calculator developed by the Poverty in America project at Penn State University: www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu
Thursday, August 10, 2006
STILLWATER -- Denise Roberge Quickenton is remembered in her hometown with words like "bubbly," "energetic" and "exuberant." Today, family and friends will attend her funeral at United Church of Stillwater.
The vivacious 29-year-old was seven months pregnant with her first child when she collapsed and died suddenly Saturday at Fenway Park in Boston, where she and her husband had traveled to watch their favorite team, the Red Sox.
Paramedics were able to save her son, Maxwell Gregory, but Denise died almost instantly, said her father, John Roberge of Stillwater.
Preliminary autopsy results showed she had a pre-existing heart condition that had gone undetected, he said Wednesday.
"That's all we know so far," he said, adding that Maxwell is doing "fabulously" in the neonatal intensive unit at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, where everyone from the janitor to the president of the hospital has stopped by to check on him.
"People have been very supportive," he said, relating a story about a parking attendant in Boston who got in his car and led Roberge and his wife, Mary, to the hospital when they stopped to ask directions and explained the family's situation.
"I tried to give him something, and he just said, 'No. I have a daughter, too,'" Roberge said.
Roberge described his daughter as a "lovely, well-rounded girl" who was an honor student throughout high school and college. She loved community theater, and was active in the Stillwater Players Among Others in her late teens and early 20s.
"She always had this great smile. I can still see it right now when I think about her," said Cynthia Petronis, a member of Stillwater theater group. "She cared so much, about so many things."
Her first role was a small appearance as a vampire bride in Dracula, and she went on to take lead roles as a singer and actress in several future dinner theater productions.
"She was quite the girl," said Jerry Petronis, another member of the group. "She always said she wanted to be a star, and we did our best to help her. She got her roles because of her smile, and the little twinkle in her brown eyes."
Denise met her future husband, Todd Quickenton, through one of the group's productions. By the time they married in 2002, Todd's passion for the Red Sox had rubbed off on Denise.
"She was probably a more avid fan -- almost rabid fan -- than he was," her father, John, remembered with a soft chuckle. "David Ortiz was her hero, so it's ironic that he won the game in extra innings after she passed."
The young couple lived in Schenectady, where Denise worked as an account executive at Mehigan, Robert & Bellone Advertising Agency.
Maxwell, who weighed just 3 pounds, 15 ounces at birth, is already breathing on his own and could be ready for transfer to Albany Medical Center within a few days, his grandfather said.
"He's a real little fighter," Roberge said. "He's a blessing that's keeping us sane."
Contributions may be made in Maxwell's name to the Trustco Bank, c/o the Maxwell Gregory Quickenton Trust Fund, 320 State St., Schenectady, NY 12305.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The ears of visitors to Sweet Spring Farm in Argyle are immediately greeted by what sounds like a crowd of lost children with colds.
“Maaa! Maaa?” they call out, in loud, nasal voices.
A quick glance toward the red barn reveals the source of this commotion — there are 16 kids out there, all right, but they’re part of a herd of Nubian goats, raised by Jeffrey Bowers to make milk for his new artisan cheesemaking business.
Artisan cheese is the term for cheese made primarily by hand in small batches, “with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art,” according to the American Cheese Society.
It’s also an increasingly popular small-business venture in the Northeast.
In Vermont, which has more artisan cheesemakers per capita than any other state, the University of Vermont recently introduced an Artisan Cheesemaking Institute to offer classes in many types of cheese production.
In this area, local cheesemakers say they’ve simply learned from experience.
“I think most people have a similar story to me — I got a kit and tried it at home, and when I found out how much fun it was, I wanted to do it all the time,” said Liza Porter, who runs Homestead Artisans with her husband, David.
The Porters started out in Wilton about six years ago, using milk from local dairy farmers, but moved to Argyle last year so they could raise their own goats.
They currently make 10 varieties of aged and fresh cheese, from both cow and goat milk, which they sell at farmers markets.
One of the oldest and largest local farms to milk a profit from cheesemaking is Nettle Meadow Farm in Warrensburg, which has been making artisan cheese since 1992 and currently produces about 20,000 pounds year.
Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase bought the business last year and are working 18-hour days, seven days a week, to keep up with demand from retailers and restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City for their signature Kunik cheese.
“We both worked in the law industry for over 20 years, and find this much more rewarding, despite the long hours,” Flanagan said. “Our theme is happy goats, great cheese.”
Bowers, too, is an office escapee, formerly a market researcher in Manhattan. He moved to Argyle in 2002 with his partner, Milton Ilario, settling into a lovely 18th-century homestead tucked away on a dirt road that seems rural even by Washington County standards. They launched their cheese business this spring, after getting licensed by the state.
Ilario still works full time as an information technology consultant, while Bowers has exchanged his suit and tie for farm clothes, adding a white lab coat when he’s working in the sparkling clean production area he calls “the cheese house.”
He currently makes four varieties of chevre, and hopes to add cave-aged cheeses
and blue cheese in the near future.
His day begins early and can last 12 hours between the morning and evening milkings,
with everything from paperwork to pasteurizing in between.
“It’s hard work, definitely,” he said. “But I like doing it.”
CHEESE IN THE AREA
-- Nettle Meadow Goat Cheeses and Farm, 484 South Johnsburg Road, Warrensburg, NY, 623-3372. Available at select local retailers and restaurants (see www.nettlemeadow.com). Farm is open to visitors seven days a week.
-- Homestead Artisans, 177 County Route 43, North Argyle, N.Y., 638-8530. Available at farmers markets in Glens Falls (Saturday) and Saratoga Springs (Wednesday and Saturday).
-- Sweet Spring Farm, 240 Saunders Road, South Argyle, 692-7445. Available at farmer's markets in Glens Falls (Tuesday), Greenwich (Saturday) and Clifton Park (Thursday), by mail order, or at select local retailers (see www.sweetspringfarm.com)
-- Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, offering courses in cheesemaking: www.uvm.edu/~viac/
Recipes from Sweet Spring Farm:
Sweet Spring Farm Frittata
6 large eggs
4 ounces Sweet Spring Farm fresh Chevre
Chives (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat broiler. In a large non-stick, oven-proof skillet, melt butter over medium high heat. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, cream, chives, salt and pepper. Pour mixture into skillet. With a heat-proof spatula, gently pull the eggs into the middle of the pan as they cook to allow the uncooked eggs to run underneath. When the eggs just begin to firm up, but are still wet on top, add dollops of cheese. Place skillet under broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the eggs are fully set and beginning to turn golden. Remove from broiler, run a spatula along the edge to loosen and slide onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve. Serves 4.
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quesadilla
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
4 ounces Sweet Spring Farm fresh Chevre
4 10-inch flour tortillas
Salt to taste
In a frying pan over low heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add onions and salt, and cook slowly (about 30 minutes) until soft and slightly golden. Add sugar and vinegar and cook a few minutes more until the vinegar evaporates. Allow to cool slightly. Assemble the quesadillas by placing two tortillas on a work surface. Top each tortilla with half the onions mixture and 2 ounces of the cheese, spreading evenly and covering with remaining two tortillas. Grill in a large pan or griddle over medium heat, flipping once, just until they begin to turn golden. Remove to cutting board and slice into wedges. Serves 4.
Beet Salad with Chevre
1.5 lbs fresh beets (about two bunches)
4 ounces Sweet Spring Farm fresh Chevre
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
Trim greens from beets. Add beets to a large saucepan full of salted water, and cook gently until tender throughout (30 to 45 minutes). Drain and allow to cool until they can be handled. Remove skins by scraping gently with a paring knife. Dice beets into half inch cubes.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper until dissolved. Slowly whisk in olive oil until fully incorporated. Add the vinaigrette to the beets while they are still slightly warm. Toss well to coat all the beets. Marinate until ready to serve.
Prepare a serving dish by lining with a few lettuce leaves if desired. Spoon the marinated beets onto the platter. Evenly crumble chilled cheese over the beets. Add toasted pecans and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
1 large ripe heirloom tomato
2 ounces Sweet Spring Farm fresh Chevre
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
Slice tomato and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle slices with salt and pepper. If desired, add a few drops of Balsamic vinegar to each slice. Top each slice with some of the cheese. Loosely tear basil leaves and allow them to fall evenly across the platter. Drizzle olive oil over salad and serve. Serves 2 to 4.
Recipes from Nettle Meadow Farm:
Chevre Filled Potato Pancakes
4 large potatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces fresh Chevre
Grate potatoes. Toss with salt. Coat skillet liberally with olive oil and heat on medium. Drop a medium-sized handful of potato onto skillet and flatten slightly. Place a heaping teaspoon of Chevre in center. Top with another small handful of potato. Press firmly into 3 to 4-inch circle. Brown both sides. Remove from pan and repeat with remaining ingredients, adding more oil to pan as needed.
Baked Apples with Raisins and Chevre
10 ounces fresh Chevre
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Core apples and spoon out circular cavity in center. Combine goat cheese and brown sugar with raisins. Spoon into hollowed apples and sprinkle with almonds. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about 45 minutesh.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
The first door they knocked on looked promising.
A sign on the porch said, "Welcome, Friends," and a pretty orange cat rubbed its head against the screen door as it surveyed the visitors with friendly curiosity.
After a long minute, a woman came to the door. Her voice was rough, and mildly annoyed.
"Yeah? I just got out of the shower," she told the young men standing in front of her. Beads of sweat had already begun to form on their foreheads in the moist summer heat. They wore neatly pressed slacks, ties, and white dress shirts adorned with black nametags: "Elder Oliphant" and "Elder Anderson."
In reality, Tyler Anderson and Darian Oliphant are only 19 and 22, respectively. But they left their first names back home in Utah when they came to Glens Falls to serve a two-year stint as missionaries for the Mormon Church. Both refer to each other simply as "elder" -- Anderson didn't even know Oliphant's first name when asked.
"Hello, ma'am," Anderson said, smiling. "We're with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and we'd like to share a message of hope with you."
"No, thanks," the woman responded.
"Well, is there anything we can do to help you out? Is there anything you need?" he asked, still smiling.
"No," she said. "I belong to the Catholic Church. I think I'll stick with that."
Walking away from the house a moment later, Anderson said her response was typical.
"Most people here are very nice and polite," he said. "We've only had a few people who were really nasty, yelling and swearing."
The elders live on Notre Dame Street, in an apartment the Mormon church has been renting for at least a dozen years to house young missionaries. Their parents provide most of their financial support, which is administered through the church.
It's not a typical young adult experience, to be sure -- their faith holds them to a strict behavioral code which includes abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, gambling, pornography and sex outside of marriage.
Missionary service is optional, but at least 50,000 Mormons are currently serving worldwide in their own version of Peace Corps. Men must serve two years, while women serve 18 months, and the sexes are kept separate. Their activities range from door-to-door proselytizing and one-on-one teaching sessions to running errands or doing yardwork for people who request help.
"So far, I've found that people in New York tend to be pretty independent. We haven't gotten to help out too much, which is too bad," Anderson said. "We love it when we get that chance."
They stepped onto the next porch. The sound of dogs barking from somewhere deep inside the darkened house was the only answer to their knocks.
Anderson rubbed his hands together and glanced at Oliphant, perhaps checking to see how he was handling his first day in the field. Oliphant was fresh out of a three-week training period in Provo, Utah, and excited about beginning his mission.
"I've waited about three years for this," he said, explaining that medical problems kept him from being able to leave home at 19, the youngest age at which Mormon men qualify for missionary service. In another few years, he would have been too old -- after 25, young people are encouraged to start families instead. Retired couples may serve as missionaries if they choose.
"I just want to lose myself in the work, and worry about other people for a change instead of myself," Oliphant declared, wiping sweat from his forehead. He said the humid climate has been the hardest thing to get used to so far.
Anderson has been here since March, and will probably move on soon to another town within the Albany region, or what the church calls a "stake." For him, the experience is a form of self-improvement.
"I want to become a better person, more outgoing, a harder worker," he said.
About five apartments down the street, another door opened to their knock. A middle-aged woman stood on the threshold with a bag of crackers in one hand. She was barefoot, and looked disoriented.
The elders introduced themselves and explained their purpose. Her eyes filled with tears.
"Yeah," she mumbled. "I gotta move. I'm gettin' robbed here. I gotta move."
Anderson and Oliphant glanced at each other -- maybe it was time to go.
Oliphant made another attempt.
"Ma'am, I just want to say -- I just want you to know that your father God loves you," he said, his voice full of sincere warmth. "Jesus Christ loves you."
The woman's face changed to a deadpan expression.
"I know," she said. "He's my son."
Oliphant took a step back.
"Is he?" he said, his calm, congenial manner never breaking. "Well, you have a nice day, ma'am."
Back on the street, the elders looked like they were fighting back a chuckle.
"You get to meet all sorts of interesting people doing this," Anderson said.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Death doesn't always shake up seniors as much as others -- as the years go by, they watch natural causes take away many of their peers.
But the loss of six friends shocked members and staff of the Bedford Senior Center in southern Michigan when the Ethan Allen tour boat capsized Oct. 2 on Lake George.
Beverly Becker, 78; Virginia Ciesinski, 82; Joann Manore, 74; Joyce Rochowiak, 69; Viola Urbaniak, 89; and Wilma LeJeune, 78, joined a group of 47 seniors from Michigan and Ohio last fall for a one-week scenic tour through the Northeast.
The six women never returned. They were among 20 people killed in the boating accident.
"All of the ladies are still very much missed here," said Sharon Throm, director of community education for the Bedford Public Schools, which runs the senior center. "Over the months, as we've had different special events and activities where they normally would have been active participants ... obviously, we miss them being there with us."
Throm said she and others at the center have followed news related to the accident and investigation in the past few months, although she did not know that the National Transportation Safety Board released its conclusions Tuesday morning.
After hearing a summary of those conclusions, she said she hoped the board's findings would be used to prevent future accidents.
"Maybe that can be some good that comes from this," she said. "Hopefully it will shine the light on safety issues and regulations."
A senior center in Trenton, Mich., is also grappling with the loss of three members on that October day.
Earl Hawley, 76; Francis Wrock, 87; and Joyce Chapman, 75, were killed in the accident. At least a dozen others from the center were on the tour and survived.
"Sure, we continue to talk about it," said Pat Hawkins, director of the city's Parks and Recreation department, which runs the senior center. "With as many people as we had on that trip, and losing some very active people, it stays with us."
Hawkins personally knew two of the three victims. He was closest to Chapman, who had been his friend for at least 25 years.
"She was the kind of person who everybody would think of as a best friend," he said. "She'd put you in your place if it was called for, but even then it was with a smile."
He also spoke fondly of Earl Hawley, a retired telephone company engineer whose wife, Anna May, survived the accident.
"He was such an outgoing guy, with a big smile ... well known and respected in the community," he said. "Basically, if you knew Earl, you'd like him."
Hawkins said the NTSB's conclusions did not surprise him, and he doesn't think any one party is solely to blame for the accident.
"What does surprise me a little ... is that the boat met the requirements of the state certification," he said. "Maybe (more stability testing) should have been required."
Margie Kidon, a 64-year-old Trenton resident who was traveling with the seniors as a city liaison, had a more decisive response.
"Well, that boat was definitely overloaded. They should have used two boats and split the people," she said Tuesday afternoon, after hearing the NTSB's conclusions. "I thought that from the start. There were still people on the dock, and the boat was full, but the captain made people move over. I said to my friend, 'Why are they putting more people on here? There's no more room on this boat.'"
Kidon has filed a lawsuit against Shoreline Cruises and Capt. Richard Paris for the pain and suffering she says the accident has caused her.
"My life will never be the same," she said. "I've had health issues. I've gone from being a very happy person to a very depressed person who cries a lot."
Some survivors seem more at peace than others, said Hawkins.
"I know that there are some people that are angry, and there are others that look at it as a tragic accident," he said.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Sahara (2005). Directed by Breck Eisner, based on the novel by Clive Cussler. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz and William H. Macy. 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for action violence).
If the humidity has sapped your appetite for outdoor adventure lately, try curling up with your air conditioner and living vicariously through this hot action flick.
Squirt on some self-tanner and pretend you're in league with the gorgeous Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz as they cavort around the desert in a desperate search for sunscreen.
No wait, that's not it -- they're searching for an American Civil War battleship that wandered improbably into the heart of Africa some 150 years earlier.
On second thought, it's probably more important to find the source of a deadly plague that's killing the people of Mali and threatening the entire global ecosystem.
But with a greedy, brutal warlord controlling much of the territory they need to explore, their quest takes on a dangerous edge.
It starts when plague hunter Eva Rojas (Cruz), a doctor with the World Health Organization, meets treasure hunters -- sorry, marine salvagers -- Dirk Pitt (McConaughey) and his goofy sidekicks Al (Steve Zahn) and Rudi (Rainn Wilson). They all end up in the same boat, in more ways than one.
Pitt's smug self-confidence is occasionally grating -- in terms of emotional depth, his character is a real desert -- but McConaughey's dimples make it hard to hold a grudge.
The film is based on a Clive Cussler novel with the type of plot that makes great beach reading, and director Breck Eisner seems to be striving for the same cheap-paperback feel. Plenty of things get blown up and there's the requisite good-guy fatality, but even the action scenes are playful.
Sure, it ends predictably, but there's something satisfying about plots with clear villains and heroes, and conflicts that wrap up neatly, sealed with a long-awaited kiss.
It's a fun diversion from a world where the plot is much more complicated.