One more mile

Once again my column in Sunday's Times Leader garnered some comments, so I've decided to reprint it here. For the record, I'm still deciding where to go or whether to go at all. Not sure what I'll be doing, either, because there are so many possibilities. My hope is that at some point the Universe will part the clouds and shine a big sun ray on a map or a house or a plane ticket. Or the winning lottery ticket, so I can do everything and go everywhere. 

COLUMN 24

According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA,) each year an average of nearly 36 million people move their households. I know two of those people this year: my friend Dottie and myself. 

A few years ago Dottie came back to the Ohio Valley from her home in California to take care of a couple of elderly relatives. Sound familiar? She and I are part of the 15 percent of Americans who move for “family-related” reasons. She cultivated a life here but missed her daughters and grandchildren on the west coast, and they missed her. This year Dottie decided to pull up stakes and build on her daughter’s property. She asked me if I would drive the U-Haul truck cross-country for her, adding that I could head up to Oregon and clear out my storage unit holding my own furniture, books, camera equipment, etc. for over four years. I agreed that this was a good idea, and I needed a change of scenery after the last year.  

A Facebook friend recently drove to San Diego posting awesome photos all along the way, noting that to see the “real” America, you have to get off of the Interstate. I totally agree having driven I-80 through 1,400 miles of corn from Nebraska to Ohio, but Dottie and I were interstate-bound, too, with deadlines to meet and long days of driving. My Instagram and Facebook posts could only chronicle some bits and pieces of sights seen from I-40, leaving “The World’s Largest Wind Chime” for future travels.

Most of it proceeded without incident, but between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque an approaching weather system created 40 m.p.h. winds. It was a 550 mile drive anyway, but the wind, the hills and a loaded-down 17-foot U-Haul turned it into a 12-hour day. Finally in the hotel parking lot, aching, tired and after Google maps sent me circling in the opposite direction of the hotel, I locked my keys and my pup Zsa Zsa in the truck.

As I had a meltdown and Dottie called AAA three times, a man stepped over from the counter and said, “I hear what’s happening, and I can’t make any promises, but I’ll take a look at the truck for you.” He was an angel and removed the keys through the window while Zsa Zsa slept on the seat. I gave him a restaurant card to use for lunch with his kids.

Dottie and I did take some time to visit Sedona, Arizona and taste wine in Paso Robles, California. We unloaded the truck and returned it in Amador County, then headed up to Oregon.

Before leaving Ohio I discovered that it was less expensive—not to mention time consuming—to fly back to Ohio and hire movers to ship the contents of my storage space instead of renting another U-Haul. Many people commented on my last column about downsizing and clearing out. Well, those comments echoed in my ears as the purge continued.

I cautiously raised the door of the storage unit and waited for something to tumble out. All was safe and sound, and, thankfully, mostly in boxes and bins. I began transferring items to a “giveaway” pile and a “garbage” pile, steadily working my way through, oh, one-third of the unit. Hmmm. My goal was to reduce the amount of all the stuff by half, and the movers were going to pick everything up in two days. I stepped up the “get rid of” action, loaded up my rental car with items for Goodwill and made some more progress.  

By the end of the first day I’d come to three realizations. First, I had had a LIFE in Oregon. Here was my artwork and inventory; here were the items filling my cupboards and drawers; here were my files of photo negatives and client projects; here were my lesson plans, materials and tools for the classes I taught; here were my shop fixtures. It was all coming back to me.

The second realization was that I was living proof that one person CAN have too many books—and it pains me to say that. Boxes and crates of art books, cookbooks, magazines and the old mysteries that I’d collected seemed to get in the way of everything else I was trying to sort. I did give many books to Goodwill and magazines to recycling, but only glanced at the coffee table books that I used during my photo classes.

Third, I realized I could keep my storage unit for now. Once I gave myself permission to keep the space, I felt more relaxed and focused about sorting and packing. While my stuff should be in Ohio by the time this column is in print, I’ve left the possibility of returning to Oregon, even part-time, open. I packaged up the things that were pertinent to life here—sweaters, wine and much of my artwork--and left behind those belongings more suited to the beach.

It’s scary to not have a concrete plan, but right now I need to take one step at a time even if the steps go in different directions. Maybe if I continue removing the clutter, ever paring down, at some point it will clear the path.

 

A Change of Scenery

Well, here I am. I thought that my trip to California and Oregon might make things a little clearer as far as next steps, but it didn’t. I did make some excellent wine contacts in CA to try to get something going here, but found myself feeling exhilarated by the Oregon beach air and seeing friends and familiar places again.  This was unexpected.

I was overwhelmed by Sedona. I’ve not experienced mountains like those or the type of energy at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was serene and yet vibrant (almost tangible) at the same time. I don’t recall ever feeling anything like it. I had to go outside because of the power.

The Oregon coast is always amazing. There is so much natural beauty. It’s breathtaking. And even as sheets of rain were whipping off of the ocean on Friday as I was out and about, I felt comforted by it, especially when I stopped to say hello to Bob and Lenore at EVOO and Suzanne and Jim at Icefire Gallery and it was all cozy-warm inside. As I drove back to Nadine and Van’s (where I was staying,) I thought, “This is winter on the coast. Wind, water and warm.”

I cringed at the memory of last year’s stretch of below zero temps in Ohio (and New York and the whole Great Lakes region.) Blech. But here in Ohio opportunities are beginning to crop up, and I just need to focus and push myself ahead with some of the possibilities. I’m unpacking the boxes and furniture that I had shipped here from my storage unit. The first thing I noticed was that the contents smell like the coast—fresh and evergreen-y. I almost want to seal up the boxes to keep that wonderful scent close by. And so it goes.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll have seen a few shots from the road, but these are some additional. My newspaper column on Sunday also talked a bit about the trip, so I’ll post that here, too.  For now, sit back and enjoy the ride.


La Salute

Sometimes I lead a charmed life. I asked friend Diane Conroy about an upcoming Sons of Italy event, their annual wine dinner. She was on the committee and invited me to the tasting to choose the wines!

The dinner is this Saturday, Dec. 6. Of course the food is authentic, and the wines are Italian.

The line-up looks like Niro Montepulciano with antipasto and bruschetta; Riondo Rosso with roasted pork shoulder and pepperoni lasagna roll-ups; Planeta Segreta and Straccali Pinot Grigio with the seafood dishes; Bartenura Moscato with dessert; a delicioso PISA Liqueur as a finish.

Thank you to the Sons of Italy for the warm welcome. I’m looking forward to the dinner!

(I was in California and Oregon during November. Posts regarding the trip coming soon, and I’ll get back on track.)  

American (Pizza) Pie

(A little feature from today's Times Leader in honor of National Pizza Month. Thank you to Dominic DeFelice and DeFelice Brothers Pizza for their input and allowing me to take some photos at their Wheeling/Bethlehem store. Buon appetito!)

It’s that time of year when, after a long day and a dash through the neighborhood on a dark night, families gather in the kitchen to divvy up the goods. Yes, it’s National Pizza Month, and opening that box on the table has become part of the American way of life.

                So much so in fact, according to National Restaurant Association statistics, Americans consume pizza at the rate of 350 slices per second, or 46 slices per year for every man, woman and child. For a family of four, that’s 23 eight-slice pizzas per year. In the US, 93 percent of the population eats pizza at least once a month. Pizza is the “go to” food for family parties, especially for families with children under the age of 18. A Gallup poll notes that pizza is the top choice for lunches and dinners with the age 3 to 11 crowd.

                America’s favorite topping is pepperoni, which is on more than 36 percent of all orders and totals 252 million pounds consumed per year, but no one knows exactly where this trend began. It did gain popularity sometime between 1930 and 1950. Regardless of which kind, 62 percent of pizza orders include some sort of meat. And with pizza becoming a diet staple, each American also eats around 11 pounds of mozzarella cheese annually. Among toppings, anchovies are the least favorite in the United States.

                There are as many topping preferences as cultures throughout the world. The Japanese like pizza topped with eel and squid; Russians like a fish mixture of mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines with onions. Curry is popular in Pakistan, tofu in India, coconut in Costa Rica, hard-boiled eggs in Brazil and shrimp with pineapple in Australia. 

              Most people think that pizza originated in Italy, Naples to be exact. However, research shows that people were baking bread 7,000 years ago in the Neolithic age. A little later, Ancient Greeks put herbs, garlic and onions on flatbread, and after that various cultures in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia developed their own types of flavored flatbreads.

                Naples, as it happens, was a Greek settlement established around 600 BC. The seaport city grew and thrived with explorations and developing trade routes through the centuries, fostering an increasing population of working poor, or lazzaroni. Since many had no kitchens, street vendors and bakeries began selling inexpensive flatbreads with toppings, coined “pizza” (believed to originate from the Latin pista of pinsere, to pound or beat) around the 16th century. Many of the early pizzas were also sweet, and the more savory versions familiar today developed later. Tomatoes found their way onto pizza after European explorers brought them back from trips to the Americas. While wealthy Neapolitans dined on rich foods and wines, the poor “mangia”’d their way into history.

                Port’Alba, the first official pizzeria opened in Naples in 1830 and featured an oven that used lava from nearby volcano Mt. Vesuvius. On a tour through Italy with King Umberto I in 1889, Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni asked to try pizza when they arrived in Naples. Don Raffaele Esposito, owner of long-established pizzeria Pietro il Pizzaiolo, obliged with a special pie topped with tomatoes, basil and, for the first time, mozzarella cheese—honoring the colors of the Italian flag—and he named it for the queen.

                The first “official” American pizzeria was Lombardi’s Pizzeria Napoletana on Spring St. in New York City. Gennaro Lombardi opened it in 1905. As Italians immigrated to the US, they also opened restaurants and pizza parlors, introducing their cuisine to a growing American middle class. Soldiers returning from World War II tours in Italy helped spread the word about pizza and boosted its popularity as a tasty, wholesome meal.  

 

               Today the $30 billion a year pizza industry serves up the second most popular restaurant menu item, the first being burgers. For consumers over age 50, pizza is second to chicken when it comes to take-out food. Chances are, there is a pizza restaurant nearby because they hold a 20 percent market share of the number of restaurants.

                Based on per capita counts, the National Restaurant Association reports that New Hampshire rates the highest with 3.87 stores per 10,000 people. West Virginia ranks fifth in this count with 3.40 stores per 10,000 people, followed by Pennsylvania at 3.26 stores. Ohio ranks eighth with 3.18 stores per 10,000 people. New York, home of the first pizzeria, comes in 15th with 2.63 stores per 10,000, and Hawaii is last on the list with only 1.21 stores per 10,000 people.

                Of the chain pizza restaurants, Pizza Hut is the largest in the world. According to Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm, Pizza Hut restaurants and delivery/take-out units total 6,120 in the United States alone (an average of more than 120 stores per state and over 8.5 percent of the pizza real estate, but they also have outlets in 90 other countries. Rounding out the top five chains, largest first, are Domino’s, Little Ceasars, Papa John’s and Papa Murphy’s. In total, chains have 47 percent of the total 71,387 US pizzerias.

                The other 53 percent are independently owned, Connecticut having the highest percentage of independents versus chains at 87 percent. New York is second with 83 percent independent. Pennsylvania is eighth (76 percent,) Ohio is 13th (55 percent,) and West Virginia is 26th (45 percent independents.)

 

               Locally, regional family-owned DeFelice Brothers Pizza has been serving their brand based on family recipes since 1982. President Dominic DeFelice says that they’ve been able to maintain the integrity of the original pizzas even through their growth to nine stores.

                “Our dough is made fresh several times a day. We chop our fresh vegetables in every store. We use 100 percent real dairy cheese,” DeFelice explains. “We used to make our own sausage, but found someone to make it to our specifications when we couldn’t keep up with demand.”

                He adds that they used to use fresh tomatoes, but, because of the company’s growth, sought out a producer in the United States who is able to pick and can (fresh pack) tomatoes within a six hour time span, giving DeFelice a consistent product that is as fresh as possible. He believes the fresh products and flavors played a part in the “DeFelice Bros. Special” pizza winning a competition in Italy.  

                In all, DeFelice Bros. offers more than 20 toppings on the menu, but, true to form, pepperoni is still the top seller, and anchovies sell the least. The above-mentioned “Special” (with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and onions) and monthly promotion pizzas (in October, it’s taco pizza) are popular, also.

                DeFelice and district manager Geno Traficante think people like pizza because “it covers the four food groups:” dairy, meat, grains and vegetables.

                “It’s portable and fun,” adds Traficante. “It’s also social and communal. People buy it for parties, to have with friends and family.”

                “The key is the fresh ingredients, tomatoes, basil,” notes DeFelice. “We try to keep it simple.”

               And with the trend toward healthier, simpler eating, a “better pizza” movement has arisen. Technomic research and surveys indicate that 41 percent of American pizza diners want fresh, local and/or organic ingredients for their pies. Thirty-four percent of pizza consumers said they would pay more for gourmet ingredients, for instance free-range chicken, goat cheese, tapenades, house-made mozzarella and smoked ricotta.

                Pizza purists have also united and formed the “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana,” the True Neapolitan Pizza Association. Members have set the parameters for creating an authentic Neapolitan pizza. The dough must be hand-kneaded and rolled without using any instruments like a rolling pin. It must be within certain size guidelines, use ingredients of particular quality and origin and be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven. The association evaluates and designates pizzerias outside of Naples to carry on their historic traditions.     

 

                Finally, since pizza has become a huge part of American culture, here are the facts on the world’s largest pizza. The World Record Academy says the largest baked pizza was created in December 2012 in Italy by five Italian chefs raising awareness about celiac disease. Measuring 131 feet in diameter (covering one-third of an acre,) the gluten-free pizza weighed 51,257 pounds and took 48 hours to bake in 5,000 batches. The ingredients included 19,800 pounds of flour, 10,000 pounds of tomato sauce, 551 pounds of salt, 8,800 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 275 pounds of parmesan cheese.  

                Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.

 

Crush on Vino di Piccin

Last week I was invited to see and photograph the crush at a small local winery, a venture run by six hard-working siblings based on their father's homemade wine. Vino di Piccin in Lansing has a beautiful wine bar and some pretty darn good wines (i.e. Angelo's Reserve and Luigi's Zin.)

Saturday was all about the California Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes they secured from an Ohio distributor. Crates of Geneva, Ohio Concord grapes sat waiting for their turn in the crusher, too.

Thank you to the Piccin family for allowing me to hang out and take some photos, for the tastes, and for being such gracious hosts to everyone who walks through the door. The glass of wine in the final photo is what Saturday's grapes will aspire to be: Luigi's Zin.

 

Perusing Pumpkin Patches

(This feature appeared in today's Times Leader.)

By GLYNIS VALENTI Times Leader Staff Writer

Pumpkin season arrived right around the time of the fall equinox, just as the leaves began to turn colors other than green. Or it arrived September 1, the day McDonald’s released its Pumpkin Spice Latte drink (Starbucks released theirs on September 2.) Either way pumpkins mean fall, and fall means pumpkins—and lots of them.

                According to information from Iowa State University, pumpkin sales in the United States rose 16 percent from 2011 to 2012, meaning growers sold 1,388,800,000 pounds worth of pumpkin in 2012, a total value of nearly $149 million. Ohio is number three in pumpkin production behind California and top producer Illinois. In fact, 90 percent of America’s crop grows within 90 miles of Peoria, close to the Libby’s pumpkin processing plant. More than 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin comes from this plant.

                In October pumpkins are all around in a wide range of shapes and sizes. While all varieties are packed with nutritional benefits, some pumpkins are grown and suited for different uses. Pumpkin is a vegetable, a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of vine plants like squash, cucumbers and cantaloupes. The most familiar varieties have orange or yellow skins, but they can be white, brown, red, grey or green.

                The smallest pumpkins weigh only a few ounces and are used for decoration. The largest, or “giant,” varieties are grown mainly for competitions like the King Pumpkin contest at the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival. Many weigh several hundred pounds, but this year’s 1,514 pound winner was a festival record-breaker. The other hundreds of varieties of cooking, processing and carving pumpkins are in the middle of these extremes, and there are some particulars about choosing them.

                All pumpkins are squash, the word “squash” coming from an Algonquin word, “askutasquash,” meaning “eaten green or unripe.” The earliest pumpkin eaters did harvest them early and prepare them like zucchini and other squashes.

                One of the oldest known pumpkins is the cushaw, Cucurbitaceae argyrosperma, which originated in Mexico and was used 7,000 years ago. The cushaw’s elongated shape and crooked neck set it apart from the pumpkin pack, as does its light to whitish green color with mottled green stripes. Also called the green-striped cushaw and Hopi cushaw, it’s a heat-hardy, pest-resistant plant grown in desert areas of America’s southwest and can be stored up to four months. Early growers not only ate the plant for sustenance, but used it medicinally to treat burns and skin conditions like eczema, as well as to rid the body of intestinal worms and parasites. Outside of the southwest, southern and Appalachian cuisine make the most use of the moist, fibrous yellow flesh today for pies, pastries and Tennessee cushaw butter, but its availability is limited in other areas.  

                Out perusing pumpkins? There are two heirloom varieties that aficionados may enjoy hunting down. The first is the cheese pumpkin, C. moschata, a large, tan squash named for its shape’s likeness to a cheese wheel. Of West Indian origin, it was known to be in Europe during the 1500s and was cultivated on American soil before the American Revolution. It appeared in an 1815 seed catalog here and was also known as the Landreth Cheese and Mammoth Cheese pumpkins. Today’s Buff Pie pumpkin is believed to be the same variety.

                The second, the Quaker Pie pumpkin, is rare but still around. A New York seed catalog advertised this white-skinned, white-flesh globe, which averages about 8 inches in diameter, but weighs around 10 pounds. The vines grow to 15 feet long and have very large flowers. In cooking, this variety has a coconut flavor.

                Pumpkin—real pumpkin, not the canned pie mix—is a rich source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. One cup of cooked, drained flesh is only 49 calories and yields 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 12 grams of carbohydrates. It contains a wealth of minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. But the beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A which is vital for skin, mucous membranes and eye health and fights age-related macular disease. Studies are indicating that Vitamin A also helps the body resist lung and oral cavity cancers. Pumpkin seeds, too, are a heart-healthy snack providing dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, protein, iron, niacin, selenium, zinc and the amino acid tryptophan.

                Finding cooking pumpkins is easy this time of year. Here are a few pointers for finding the tastiest. Cooking pumpkins are smaller, between 4 and 8 pounds. The flesh is dense, sweet and smooth. Look for names like “Sugar Baby,” “Baby Pam,” “New England Pie,” and “Autumn Gold.” Ripe pumpkins make a hollow sound when tapped. Avoid those that are cut or bruised because of the risk of bacteria getting inside. They can be stored for several weeks at room temperature in a cool, well-ventilated area.

                When cutting, remove the stem end first. Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the webbing and seeds. Slice the halves, and cut the flesh into cubes. Not just for pie, pumpkin is used in stews, cookies, pancakes, breads, casseroles, sauces, ice cream, cheesecake, ravioli filling and on its own as a side dish. It is often used interchangeably with winter squash, especially butternut.

 

              Carving, or field, pumpkins are usually larger and grow in various shapes. It helps to have a carving design in mind before shopping. Elongated varieties lend themselves to faces or window designs. Plumper shapes are suited to the traditional “jack o’ lantern” face. Oddly shaped pumpkins may provide opportunities for creating funny or scary faces. Again, a hollow sound when tapped means a ripe pumpkin, but the skin should be firm, not soft or bruised. It should sit solid and level.

                Assemble cutting and carving tools such as knives, saws, an ice cream scoop and dry erase markers or T-pins to draw or transfer the design. Professional pumpkin artists use a variety of power tools during the carving process. One suggests a drywall saw for the initial cuts, a jigsaw for smaller cuts, a rotary tool for the skin and an angle grinder for cleaning large areas.   

                Decide where the opening will be. If it’s the top, cut into the pumpkin on an angle to make a cone.  Openings can also be cut into the back or the bottom, but make sure the pumpkin will sit safely. Remove the seeds and netting with an ice cream scoop, beginning at the top of the hole and progressively moving down through the pumpkin. Scrape the inside clean with the scoop or scraper tool, and try to scrape the flesh down on the inside to less than one inch in the design area to make carving easier.

                To transfer a pattern, secure or draw the image on the prepared area. Follow the lines of the design with a sharp, pointed object such as a T-pin, nail or metal skewer, then dust the lines with baking soda or cornstarch. Mark the areas to be cut with a marker or crayon while peeling the pattern away. Start with the small sections to be removed. Gently follow the dots with a saw blade or small knife. Keep the design in mind while carving—whatever is lit in the design is what needs to be carved out. The professionals urge care and patience here not only for safety, but to not damage intricate areas in the design. Don’t slice or rush, removing the sections carefully by hand. Make sure the back area is scraped clean and flat so as not to create shadows when lit.

                Pros suggest a light spritz of bathroom cleaner with bleach or soaking it overnight in a tub of water with a little bleach. The bleach will keep pests away, and the water will keep the pumpkin firm. A thin layer of petroleum jelly on the exposed edges will help retain the moisture and prolong the pumpkin’s life. Light it up with blinker or flicker bulbs, black light or a noise sensor that turns it on when someone walks by.

                Back to the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL, Starbucks has sold more than 200 million over its 10 years on the menu. A medium has 510 calories, 20 grams of fat and 62 grams of sugar. McDonald’s PSL has fewer calories at 440, but the same fat and sugar content. The non-fat versions still contain the sugar (as much an average candy bar) but fewer calories and far less fat.

                 The real kicker? There is no “pumpkin” in it. According to the Starbucks website, the PSL is an “espresso beverage that features freshly steamed milk, rich and creamy pumpkin-flavored sauce and warm seasonal spices such as cinnamon, ginger nutmeg and clove.” But America’s love of pumpkin shows no signs of slowing down, and in 2013 spent $308 million on various pumpkin-flavored products. What would the Great Pumpkin think about that?

Some Fall (Food) Colors

Thought I would add a couple of photos from yesterday's trip to the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire. Susan West/Lone Oak Farm had bright heirloom tomatoes, and Vagabond Kitchen was serving up Chef Ryan's steamy hot soup made with market veggies and just a little hot pepper. "Soup. Bee-you-tiful soup." (the turtle in Through the Looking Glass, C.S. Lewis)

 

October--Change is in the Air

And here we are in October, one of my favorite months, full of transition. That description is more appropriate than ever this particular year. In four weeks, trees will be bare, temperatures will be cooler, clouds greyer, days shorter. By the end of the month furniture and extraneous possessions here will have found new homes, and I’ll be reevaluating whatever is left.  

The month that begins with today’s sunny blue skies will end with the dark night and flashes of candle light that is All Hallows’ Eve.  But the fog I’ve been in seems to be clearing, and just over the past week this has all come together in my head—and online.

I seemed to be on a Path in Oregon, making plans, moving along. Then I took the detour to Ohio, which sort of shook it all up. Since my parents’ deaths I’ve had this urgency to start moving again, but lost my sense of direction.

I think I’ve tentatively gained a bit of it back. I’m starting (again) with my photo work. I’ve been trying to get to the place in my head that led me to Oregon, and that was the desire to create and teach art. My first steps on this path are 1. currently teaching a pilot online photo class; 2. a new photography website—now in progress--with the same domain (glynisart.com) that has updated content and a fresh look; 3. a photo project on Instagram/Facebook that has me shooting every day this month, see #gvoctoberproject. I’m also creating a totally NEW website incorporating my favorite things. I will, of course, keep you posted about all of that. Very exciting.

I love this glass pumpkin. It, too, changes—elegant, then funky, silvery, then dark, glowing full of sunlight, or an antique just cleared of cobwebs in an old Victorian. As October begins it’s a bit early to ask myself where I’ll go from here. But I know that by taking some new steps to move forward, I won’t be in the same place at month’s end.  

Your road is your own

So now that I have been through the house, examining and weighing the remnants of my parents’ lives, it is time for my own reckoning.

Yesterday I started in my corner of the garage. Several Rubbermaid bins have been sitting there since I moved from Rochester to Oregon. The three or four that I went through (those bins not buried under hypertufa supplies and my Oriental rug) still yielded paperwork to be shredded and things to add to the giveaway piles. I brought my silverware into the house to use.

I was surprised at how detached I was as I methodically glanced and tossed. Not wearing my glasses was probably a good idea. Once in awhile something caught my eye, and those few things were placed in a “review” pile.

Though I would prefer “spring” as a metaphor for growth and rebirth, there is change in the air today. I heard Canadian geese this morning, getting an early start. I was hopeful when I heard a brief rain as I woke up, but that was the beginning and the end apparently. The blustery wind has blown the clouds and any chance of rain east for the foreseeable future. Color is creeping through the trees, and we know what’s next. I looked over my curious pile of memories this morning. Change is imminent.

1.  In my “office” bin, I found this program from a Bobby McFerrin concert. NEAD, the agency where I worked at the time, gave me two prime tickets for my birthday. I was so appreciative. The people in that office were kind and giving and funny. Everyone was on the same mission and worked as a team. So proud and blessed to have been a part of it.

The letter is from an acquaintance. I felt guilty when I pondered this because I truly had no idea who this person was, yet I am “dearest Glynis.” I finally figured out that he was a friend of a friend whom I met once or twice with my friend in Cleveland. Other than that, I know nothing about him.   

The notebooks were entirely different. There were logs from one of my part-time jobs for a market research firm along with, surprisingly, notes to someone I was seeing at the time. I don’t think I ever sent these notes—a good thing, I’m sure. It was upsetting to read some of them because this wasn’t a good time in my life. The words are not angry, but in fact overly caring. It was difficult to read because I know how unhappy I was, and I used all of my strength to cover and push that pain down. Live and learn. Well, sort of.

 

2. The wine bottle is something I brought back from Oregon. It was in a basket with other more pertinent things. Clients—five brothers--at my wine shop meet in Cannon Beach every year from different parts of the country. They came into the shop and grilled me about wine, did some tasting and talking and bought a couple of bottles for the weekend. As they were leaving town, they stopped in to say goodbye and presented me with a half glass of this premier Bordeaux ($200+ bottle.) I was touched and flattered to be included, and it gave me a little confidence, too. The bottle shattered on the garage floor when I dropped the basket.

In one of the bins I found my father’s sunglasses from the 1960s, which, after he said I could have them, I wore occasionally. He came into the garage just after I broke the bottle. I thought he would be mad that 1. there was glass all over the floor and 2. that it was a wine bottle. Instead he seemed genuinely concerned that I not hurt myself cleaning it up and sorry that I broke something that I valued.  

You never know for sure how people will react.

3. This other notebook had a different “theme.” In it I explored different path choices. What was the comparative cost of living in Santa Fe or Taos? What were my skills? My marketable skills? And this page, for some reason left blank. “What I would do if I could do anything.” That is the question, isn’t it?

The framed card is one that sat on my desk in Rochester. It reads, “Your road…is your own.” True again. I find myself trying to determine what I want to do next and where I want to go now, but this time I’m releasing things I don’t want to carry on the next leg of my journey. My road IS my own, and I can DO anything I want. I have figured this out at this point.

Each of us has a path, and, if you’re moving along it, the scenery is always changing. I feel like I’ve been here before, but not. This time around I’ve let go of things, of the past, and am continuing that work. Maybe that’s what this is about: releasing, shedding like fall leaves, finding one’s essence and truth within.

 

HEROIN: The Addiction

Here is the second part of the series on heroin, which appeared in The Times Leader earlier this year. Do check out TylersLight.com. The videos are quite powerful.

HEROIN: The Addiction

By GLYNIS VALENTI Times Leader Staff Writer

 

 “We didn’t understand addiction and how to separate the person from the illness. We felt alone in our quest for help.” Wayne Campbell, father of a heroin overdose victim

 

Heroin addiction is a no-win situation. A scant minority makes it into recovery, but for the rest of their lives they will be walking a tightrope. More often than not, using heroin is fatal. It is a daily game of Russian roulette pitting a $10 stamp bag against the rest of one’s life. This wretched scenario may have begun with friends sharing six packs of beer under the bleachers at football games or relaxing with joints around camping trip campfires or with a prescription for easing the pain from surgery, chronic pain or a sports injury.

           While the United States population is roughly five percent of the world population, Americans use 80 percent of the world’s prescription drugs and 70 percent of the world’s illegal drugs. In Ohio 11 young adults between ages 15 and 25 die every two days from overdoses. The human body doesn’t distinguish “dangerous.” It only takes in more and more of what makes it feel good. It builds up tolerance for opiates quickly and reacts violently when the intake isn’t enough.

                Heroin and other opiates are extremely dangerous because 1. they are highly addictive (it’s an almost certainty) and can happen with one fix; 2. as soon as the effects wear off, the body begins moving into withdrawl; 3. withdrawl is hard on the body and weakens it, making the drugs more attractive; 4. addicts need more doses more often, and there is no “regulation” dose. Dealers don’t care about safety, so there may be less heroin cut with more strychnine, or a higher grade of heroin in this shipment that they cut with laundry detergent, or a lesser grade cut with other more powerful drugs. Dealers do care about collecting $10 for a dose about the size of a crushed baby aspirin. There will always be addicts on which they prey.     

                Heroin can be swallowed, inhaled as fumes, “snorted” through a tube into the nasal passages, “mainlined” into a vein through injection or injected into muscle or fatty tissue, called “skin popping.” To liquefy the drug for inhalation or injection (the most common and potent means of ingestion) addicts will have a “kit” consisting of bent spoons, glass pipes, tin foil or bottle caps, a length of rubber banding or hose and syringes and hypodermic needles. The drug is detectable in urine for up to four days after using, but most addicts cannot wait that long before their next fix.

                Heroin (injected) initially produces a euphoric rush and a warm, fuzzy sensation. The user feels relaxed, drowsy and pain free as the world slows down and thoughts and memories slip away. The drug flows to parts of the brain that control blood pressure and breathing, but also to critical areas controlling pain and dependence, so as heroin is easing the physical pain the mind is welcoming that relief and creating the need for continuing. It is completely converted to morphine through chemical processes in the body. There is no “experimenting” with heroin; the body and mind are immediately drawn in.            

                The rush, of course, wears off, and the user begins coping with the aftermath: nausea and vomiting as the body tries to reject the heroin, dry mouth, confusion, slurred speech, muscle weakness and slow breathing. Some deaths are attributed to this stage when the addict loses consciousness and is asphyxiated by his own vomit.

                Aside from increased tolerance and addiction, regular use of heroin will manifest other harmful indications such as scars and bruises, depression (when not high,) appearing sedated, severe weight loss, decline of personal grooming and cleanliness, premature aging, irritability, mood swings and changes in sleeping patterns. Users are susceptible to pneumonia and infections of the heart and liver. Addicts who inject the drug run an extremely high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis from dirty needles, as well as skin infections, abscesses and collapsed veins. They may complain of a condition termed “itchy blood,” which causes them to scratch uncontrollably, leaving welts and sores.

             Psychologically, the addict’s life revolves around heroin, and he will lie to loved ones, co-workers and strangers about his addiction and actions connected with it. When his money runs out, the addict will use any means necessary to obtain drugs, including, but not limited to, manipulation, theft, gambling and prostitution.

                Withdrawl begins 6 to 24 hours after the last fix and can last up to 10 days. All of the above-mentioned downswing effects like nausea and muscle weakness progress into sweating, cold sweats and chills, anxiety and uneasiness, muscle spasms, insomnia, aching muscles and bones then cramping, diarrhea, excessive sneezing and discharge of mucous, watery eyes and yawning. Unless a user is in a rehabilitation facility, he or she is most likely to seek out a dealer for relief.

                The Campbells of Pickerington, outside of Columbus, are an all-American family, educated and hard-working. Their oldest son, Tyler, was well-liked and set his sights on playing Division I college football, earning a scholarship to the University of Akron. He made the starting team in his second year and found out how rough play could get. After games, doctors would be on hand in the locker rooms, checking players for injuries, pulled muscles, headaches, etc.

                Wayne Campbell, a Martins Ferry native and Tyler’s father, says he found out later that the doctors would give players pain killers to alleviate those aches and help them get through practices. Tyler told his parents everything was fine. Then he suffered a shoulder injury requiring surgery. The doctor gave Tyler 60 Percocet to help him recover.

             During Tyler’s junior year, however, his positive attitude deteriorated, his grades dropped, and his performance on the team declined. When he came home for the Christmas break, Campbell knew there was a health issue and took him to an OSU medical center where a doctor found the prescription drug addiction. Campbell sent Tyler to rehab after which Tyler returned to the University of Akron—and to drugs.

                His parents got him back into rehab, then into a smaller college. A dealer there introduced him to heroin. Campbell got a call from one of Tyler’s friends, and they admitted him into an exclusive Cleveland rehab facility where he was surrounded by doctors and lawyers with the same addiction.

                Upon his release, Tyler changed his major to counseling to help other young people get past addiction. On a visit home from school, Tyler suffered a fatal overdose.

                “We couldn’t help him,” Campbell recalls. “The addiction was the issue. It grabbed him, and he couldn’t shake it.”    

                Two weeks after Tyler’s death, friends and family met, and Tyler’s Light (TylersLight.com) was formed. Campbell travels to schools and organizations telling this story, talking with students and parents and making sure people know that speaking up could save a life. Campbell was surprised that the problem was so prevalent in their county and in Ohio. He does presentations often in Belmont County, especially since the Columbus drug task force commander told him heroin traffickers target suburban, rural teens rather than urban school districts.

                Campbell echoes law enforcement’s pleas to parents to monitor their children’s friends and activities. Even if mood swings and erratic sleep patterns seem like normal teen traits, changes in behavior, clothing, weight, grades and friends could signify problems, including involvement with drugs. Finding “kit” items or noticing missing money or valuables are red flags. Knowing the signs, paying attention and taking action are the only ways to help a loved one.

                “There are no do-overs,” Campbell adds. “You can’t ask them why.”

               

Archeology

I worked on the house this weekend. My brother had to postpone coming down until next weekend, but, since it was my first weekend at home in awhile, I took advantage. I accomplished about two-thirds of what I wanted to do, but that’s okay. I’ll keep moving my parents’ things into the basement and moving my things upstairs. This will clear out rooms and closets (I hope,) as I get ready for the next steps. There is just too much stuff of theirs and mine.

I want to bring a desk upstairs, but a living room loveseat will have to go. I cleaned out six of the seven drawers in the desk on Saturday. The last drawer is stuck, and I’ll have to keep chiseling away at it. The photos show what is making this clear out a monumental task: all kinds of bits and pieces, random papers, obsolete paraphernalia. It all appears in every drawer in dressers, chests, envelopes and boxes.

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This assortment includes normal desk supplies with a china hand that belonged to a now-unknown knick-knack; screwdrivers, screwdriver parts, a folding ruler, a classic flashlight and a toothbrush; boxes of razor blades and rubber bands sold by the pound (still usable;) family history that starts with my great, great-grandparents and ends with my mother’s handwritten memories for a reunion and a stray puzzle piece.

 

Is there anything more endearing than children’s art? My brother’s class (kindergarten or first grade, I think) sent some cheery notes to my father, who was in the hospital with a kidney infection a few days before Thanksgiving. Many have flowers or cars or turkeys, but one of these has a “pome,” another has a penny as a present, and my brother crafted his own card for “Mr. Ault.”

 

The excavation continues.

Chaos to Composure

Among everything else of concern to me right now, I am hearing disturbing murmurs. There is a general undercurrent of restlessness in our world, and it all seems to be speeding up like the out of control bus in the movie. Stop--and it all goes up in flames. But the murmurs I mentioned don't portend any different an outcome.

While I was wrestling with the column below in my head, I had a couple of unnerving dreams where I woke up shaking. One is still unsettling as I write this, and I knew that I HAD to get these thoughts out into the public realm. The photo, which I titled "Peace," is one that kept showing up in my head as I organized my thoughts. What could be more innocent and peaceful than a duckling paddling around the Necanicum River under a blue sky?

 

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COLUMN 22

By GLYNIS VALENTI Times Leader Staff Writer

I have been struggling with this column for more than two weeks. It concerns no less than the issue of good versus evil.

 In years past I have likened people--on certain days or times of the year—to bees at the end of summer. Buzzing, hurrying, darting to get where they’re going and do what they have to get done, usually just before a holiday weekend or before a big storm hits. But it isn’t a random occurrence anymore. It has not only become the norm, but has spread into all kinds of tangents and facets of life.

Though there are still 24 hours in a day, seven days a week, time is at a premium. It’s the “me, now” era, so get out of the way. Tempers are shorter. Everyone carries a big stick, but no one walks softly. All voices have something to say, relevant or not, and insist on being heard. Loudly. Defensiveness transitions to bullying and then to simply taking what one wants. It’s compounded throughout the world, resulting in terrible headlines that make us feel powerless.

I have friends who monitor world politics, violence, finances and trends. One of said friends is a devout Catholic, and she has been filling me in on the Ferguson, Missouri news, directives from Pope Francis and her own observations. She has summed up and connected all of this growing unsettling energy in two words: chaos and evil.

There are conspiracy theories that no longer seem theoretical. Of particular interest and concern (to me, at least) is the idea of governments and corporations without ethics instituting means to weaken and control economies and populations and foster chaos. The ground and focus keep shifting all around us—the Greek economy, North Korean weapons, Mexican drug cartels, Middle East bombings, and in the United States, the health care debacle and a pharmaceutical-dependent society amidst a rising threat of terrorism.

Most Americans are, for now, insulated somewhat on our soil, but I do see more pushiness, more defensiveness and oversensitivity in day-to-day life that is taking its toll. My personal theory is that this restlessness is the result of the chaotic energy trickling down in the atmosphere at large. Life is immediate—information, food, transportation, cash, satisfaction—and it creates sensory overload and dependence on immediacy at the same time. “Me, now” and chaos. 

This brings me to “evil.” According to my friend, all of the chaos is playing into Satan’s plan, if it isn’t being orchestrated by him already. Let me say that I have always believed in a Higher Power, God, but not so much in an evil one. My friends are adamant that Satan exists, as is Pope Francis. In my research for this I found many headlines about the Pope going “old school” on the Devil, calling for the church to take every opportunity to stop him in his tracks and to fervently pray for the world’s safety. My friend also mentioned a group of nuns whose only task is to pray. One of them came out of sequester to talk about how it has become a ‘round the clock endeavor in order to stave off the Dark Side. 

In researching my series on heroin, one of the most horrifying facts was that drug dealers now lace marijuana with heroin in order to get teens hooked right away. I can’t describe the despair I feel for these dealers and these children since hearing this. There are other haunting images that I push back from an in-depth feature on SPII (Sexual Predator Internet Initiative.) What kind of human does these things, thinks these things up? This is evil.   

Now that I’ve emptied the contents of my head, how can I be most effective in the good versus evil battle? As I’ve mentioned, my friends keep close watch on current events, usually the negative. This is not me. I’ve come to believe that giving what is negative attention gives it power, especially if fear is involved. If I am concentrating on Middle East bombings or fear a terrorist attack in America, my thoughts, being energy, will further that course.

I have to start with myself. I once read a woman’s quote about her divorce: “I can either be bitter or better.” Can’t we all? Every moment contains that choice. I can be irritated in slow traffic, or I can take that moment to send loving thoughts to a friend in need. I can assure myself that what I have is more than enough. I can give people information they can use. In a crowded store I can smile, say “excuse me” and “thank you,” and acknowledge those who do the same. I can strive to be a calm, kind oasis in a sea of chaos. I can pray for the highest and best for all concerned. I can envision my positive ripples radiating out to meet others like them and flooding the world.

And, to paraphrase another quote, if you think that “one” can’t make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.   

Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.

Farm to Table--Wheeling, WV

No real copy for this post. I'll let the photos tell you about today's Oglebay Institute's fundraiser "Farm to Table," featuring the area's best chefs cooking up fresh local produce and some of those farmers selling said produce to attendees.

Great to see Holly Herbold, who has consolidated with Bluebird Farm--I always go overboard photographing her vegetable displays; Eric Rubel of Crossroads Farm; Chef Matt Welsch and wife Katie of Vagabond Kitchen serving fresh greens with WV-raised herbed roast beefalo; Chef Zach Orban and Avenue Eats owners Lara Graves and Phillip Kendall with their veggie and pork (or tofu) wraps and lavender cupcakes; Chef Mark Glass of West Virginia Northern Community College Culinary Arts program dishing up chicken with beans, a pretty bean and tomato salad, and apple cobbler; Charlie Schlegel of perennial favorite Ye Olde Alpha and his new Cilantro grilling up chorizo sausage served with blue potato chips.

Enjoy!

   

HEROIN: The Epidemic

I live in Appalachia--coal mines, abandoned steel mills, barges traveling up and down the Ohio River, family farms--where Belmont County's population is around 70,000 and looks like a metropolis next to Monroe and Harrison Counties to the south and west, respectively.

As Chef Jamie Oliver has touted, health issues here are rampant and pervasive. Financial, nutrition and fitness poverties have become the way of life. Doctors prescribe medications that address symptoms rather than causes. And here we are.

I deliberated about posting this series because it isn't happy fare. This is a serious issue, and Belmont County and the state of Ohio are among the majority now with opiate and heroin problems--real problems. Police, anti-drug activists and health care workers have told me that they learned something from this series, so I've decided to post it here, the theory being that better education will lead to better decisions and, hopefully, something useful.

This is the first of three installments.

It doesn’t start out with deceit and theft. Nor does it begin with making your connection and injecting the fix as your children watch from the back seat of the car. In fact, most heroin addicts’ short journeys to darkness and desperation begin with a legitimate visit to a doctor.

                Society’s dependence on prescription drugs—especially pain killers and muscle relaxers—has created what Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine calls “an epidemic” where a solid 70 percent of drug busts in the state are now opioid-related. According to a report citing information from the DEA and other federal and state agencies, in 2010 alone 692 million doses of opiates like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, methadone, morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, buprenorphine, fentanyl base and meperidine were distributed to retail pharmacies. Common names for some of these include Vicodan, OxyContin, Percocet and Demerol.

                The report puts that large number in perspective. This is enough for 60 doses per every person living in Ohio; 1.8 million doses per day; 79,000 doses per hour; 1,316 doses per minute. Every second 22 people are taking one of the above-mentioned pills. These numbers are for assumedly legitimate prescriptions ordered by doctors.

                When patients have recovered from their illnesses or surgeries and can no longer get the medications to which their bodies have become accustomed (and addicted,) they seek out other sources—dealers, who peddle stolen and illegally manufactured pharmaceuticals, and “pill mills,” often operating under the guise of pain management clinics that have relaxed prescription policies. A Google search of “pill mills Ohio” brings up more than 100 locations in the Columbus area alone. DeWine says that eliminating pill mills is crucial to crippling the growing heroin problem and adds that surrounding states are facing the same issues.

                As the physical addiction takes hold, the body requires more drugs more often. This is the nature of opiates. Prescription drugs, however, are comparatively expensive, especially since the demand has been increasing steadily during the past decade. Enter, heroin, a morphine-based Schedule I narcotic readily supplied by Mexican drug cartels.

Pure heroin is dealt as powder or gravel rocks and sells for $4,000 to $5,000 per ounce. This bag came to Belmont County from Cleveland, and, had it not been confiscated, would have been “cut” with baking soda, baby powder, household cleanser or powdered drugs to maximize the financial gains of local dealers.  

Pure heroin is dealt as powder or gravel rocks and sells for $4,000 to $5,000 per ounce. This bag came to Belmont County from Cleveland, and, had it not been confiscated, would have been “cut” with baking soda, baby powder, household cleanser or powdered drugs to maximize the financial gains of local dealers.  

                Although opium poppies were cultivated in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago, Diacetylmorphine (heroin) was first derived from the opium poppy only about 100 years ago, first by a British chemist in 1874 and then by a German chemist in 1897. Both were looking for morphine alternatives. C.R. Alder Wright’s experiments in the UK yielded a drug that had severe effects on test animals: fear, quickened respiration then irregular heartbeat, salivation and loss of muscle control. He did not pursue its development.

                Felix Hoffmann worked for the German pharmacology company that was the predecessor to today’s Bayer and was directed to develop codeine by synthesizing opium. The company sought a milder, less addictive alternative to morphine. Instead, what he created was actually stronger and twice as addictive. It metabolized into morphine when ingested, but the company didn’t realize this when they marketed it as a cough suppressant, morphine substitute and cure for morphine addiction. The name “Heroin” came from a German word for heroic or strong because soldiers using it charged at enemy lines even as those enemies attacked.

               From 1898 to 1910 the drug was sold for general consumer use. By 1924, as governments and companies became aware of heroin’s potency and adverse effects, the drug was banned from manufacture or sale in the United States. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 made heroin a Schedule I narcotic that is illegal to possess without special licensing from the DEA. The United Kingdom still uses heroin for medical treatment.

              Traditionally Afghanistan has been the world’s leading producer and exporter of heroin with an estimated 87 percent market share in 2004. However, a fungus destroyed the opium crops there in 2009, and India is now the top producer--and consumer—of heroin, a $1.4 billion industry.

               Heroin in the Ohio Valley generally originates in Mexico according to Martins Ferry Police Chief and Commander of the Belmont County Drug Task Force John McFarland. This area sees the standard white type of the drug, also, rather than the more exotic brown and “black tar” varieties. Some of the nicknames for heroin hark back to the 1960’s and ‘70’s such as “smack,” “H” and “horse,” but McFarland adds that, because of the accessibility of information and evidence on cell phones and computers, dealers will use their own code words when talking with buyers, words that may not have anything to do with the drug’s real name. Parents should be aware of this.   

Chief John McFarland, commander of the Belmont County Drug Task Force, is concerned about how the influx of heroin is affecting Ohio Valley families and on a mission to cut the supply and access of opiates and educate children about the danger of addiction.

Chief John McFarland, commander of the Belmont County Drug Task Force, is concerned about how the influx of heroin is affecting Ohio Valley families and on a mission to cut the supply and access of opiates and educate children about the danger of addiction.

              Part of the problem and danger with heroin, as with many drugs, is that the potency is inconsistent. It is generally cut, or mixed, with other substances to stretch the pure drug and make more money. Additional substances can include lesser drugs like aspirin, products like powdered cleanser or, as in the cause of 23 deaths in Pittsburgh earlier this year, fentanyl. Fentanyl is another opiate that is 10 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Addicts have no idea what they are buying, how strong the drug is or if this will be their last fix.

               McFarland says that marijuana is definitely a gateway drug or precursor to heroin, but in most instances prescription drug addiction is the doorway. Barnesville Police Chief David Norris notes that until about two years ago there were few arrests for heroin and prescription drugs. He says the growth of the local market brought in out-of-towners from Cleveland and Pittsburgh who set up shop in and around small towns in rural Belmont County.

              “We’ve seen cases of other drugs here and there in the past,” says Norris. “But this is different. This trend is up over the last couple of years, and it doesn’t take long to see the results.”

              Aside from the physical effects of addiction and deaths from overdoses, “the results” Norris mentions are other undesirable increases: domestic violence, prostitution, theft and child neglect. The Belmont County Drug Task Force seized more than $30,000 during the past year in cash and stolen goods.

             “Five years ago almost all local drug arrests were for coke and crack [both cocaine.] Now almost all of them have ties to people out of the area,” explains McFarland. “I’ve seen young women and mothers get involved with prostitution to get heroin. Abuse is up. Child protective services have been a gigantic help, but they are overwhelmed from the cases related to drugs.”

              Both McFarland and Norris stress the importance of reaching youth about the dangers of heroin before they become addicted and the importance of vigilance on the parents’ parts to watch for any signs of changing behavior.

              “I’ve seen a 17 year old with track marks on his arms. Watch every move your child makes,” says McFarland. “I’m a parent, and I do it. I look around their rooms, ask them questions. If they think I’m mean, so be it. Look for the signs: missing items, change in behavior and appearance; know who he’s with.”

“Stamp bags” of heroin ready for sale to users are identified with catchy names by dealers. The drug task force seized 137 of these single doses with a street value of $1,370 to $4,110 as evidence in a case against the local Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club.  

“Stamp bags” of heroin ready for sale to users are identified with catchy names by dealers. The drug task force seized 137 of these single doses with a street value of $1,370 to $4,110 as evidence in a case against the local Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club.  

               Punishment for possession is a felony. A first offense with no criminal record may involve drug court, treatment and probation. McFarland says that the charge may be expunged from the perpetrator’s record if drug tests are continuously clean. Otherwise, the sentence depends on the quantity of opiates found in possession. It could result in a maximum sentence of 20 to 25 years in federal prison.

              To keep drugs off the streets and to dispose of them properly, the Drug Task Force has installed “no questions asked” drop boxes at four police stations. These the specially designed lock-boxes are sponsored by the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department, Martins Ferry Police Department, Barnesville Hospital, Morristown Pharmacy, East Ohio Regional Hospital, Riesbeck’s Market and Chirpas Auto Body and are built by students at Belmont College. The program netted 300 pounds of prescription and over the counter drugs in four months. Boxes are currently located at the police departments in Barnesville, Bethesda, St. Clairsville and Bridgeport. On April 26, sites in Ohio collected more than 14 tons (28,466 pounds) of drugs on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

                   Local police forces have boosted their manpower, training and attention toward anti-drug efforts, and Norris wants to assure dealers that their activities are on the radar and that their selling days are numbered.

                   His advice to buyers is, “Don’t even think about trying heroin. Once you do, you’re life is ruined. You’ll never be cured. If you live, you’ll be in and out of rehab the rest of your life.”

                  “The worst part is losing everything. With drugs you lose your family, your house, your job, everything in your life,” adds McFarland. “Eventually you lose your life.”

Rescue Me: A (Bridle) Path to Renewal Part 2

I planned to post this last week, but it's all a blur now. The children pictured are therapy clients. The adorable little boy has a disease that constricts his muscles, and he is in pain much of the time. Riding helps strengthen and stretch his muscles, and he looks forward to seeing the horses and RJ volunteers twice a week, though the therapy is painful. The little girl is autistic and was barely communicating before she began riding. She isolated herself from her classmates and refused to touch anything that might get her hands dirty. After three weeks of riding, her teacher called the girl's mother to tell her she was interacting with the other children, telling them about the horse. She loves feeding Apache after her ride, something she never would have done three months ago. Here is the rest of the feature.

Twelve of the ranch horses are therapy horses (seven of the rescues,) but not all horses are suited to therapy jobs. They have to be desensitized to loud noises and sudden movements; they have to have patience; they cannot be claustrophobic because attendants have to walk on either side of them. Larish says she also brushes sensitive skin areas to make sure they won’t react, and the trained horses are not afraid of wheelchairs. The evaluations and training are for both the horses’ and patients’ safety.

Larish say a 30-year old rescue named Apache and 24-year old Cisco are two popular therapy horses because of their calm and sweet demeanors. Cisco was Berica’s mate and mourns her death.

“Cisco is a teacher, a wise old man,” Larish notes. “That horse knows it all. Whenever I’m upset I tell him all my troubles, and he just soaks it all in. He was endurance trained, so he can ride like the wind. But put a child on his back and he’s on his tip toes, he’s so gentle. If horses have a job to do, they feel much better.”

At RJ Ranch their jobs involve helping (with doctors’ permission) clients from 4 to 98 years old address issues with autism, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cancer, brain injuries, behavior, addiction, physical and developmental disabilities and all types of abuse. Clients come through agencies or individuals in the Upper Ohio Valley.

Responses to the treatments are positive. Larish says one patient came to the ranch as a last resort after being given just weeks to live. She was using a walker and didn’t know anything about horses, but the staff worked with her, starting with grooming. One and a half years later, the patient is fully functional, living on her own and driving.

She notes a 4-year old patient who was non-verbal and non-functioning (having to be fed and dressed, etc. by others.) After three months of riding, he began speaking, repeating others’ words. He then started talking on his own and is now in the fourth grade with no IEP or behavior issues.

“What most of us find normal or annoying has some of my parents jumping for joy—like talking or playing in the mud,” says Larish. “It’s amazing what happens to children when they ride,”

That applies to many of the ranch’s workers, too. Larish’s daughter Julianna, 17, and Larish’s boyfriend’s son Jeremy, 23, manage daily chores and activities for the other nine volunteer workers, all teenagers. They work as a team and follow chore charts. There is a garden that provides most of the farm’s food, and Larish purchased a pig and cow for butchering. Julianna points out that the group comes up with its own projects and systems to make the farm work more efficiently, and the process builds leadership skills.

“There’s peer pressure,” Julianna says. “But it’s good peer pressure.”

Aside from regular farm chores like cleaning stables, mending fences and cutting and baling 200 acres of hay, the students are trained to assist the riders as leaders and attendants. Most are staying on the farm for the summer, even some that live nearby. Larish is in contact with their parents but says many of the kids who have lived on the ranches come from difficult home lives and are considered high risk, and this is a safe place for them to be.

Remembering her promise to provide sanctuary, Larish, called “Momma Julz” by the kids, says that many open up with stories about their lives at home and on the streets when they feel comfortable. She and Julianna tallied the number of teens with whom Larish has interacted with and/or housed, and they came up with 57. She does hope to work with probation and community service programs to reach more high risk youth.

 “These kids used to be out partying,” she adds. “Now they work all day, and our parties are sitting around a campfire and eating s’mores.” 

But there is more work to do. Her most immediate need is completing the riding arena with rolling, sand and gravel. Ideally, they will close it in, also, so therapy is available in the winter months and on rainy days. As mentioned, there are 200 acres of hay to mow, so Larish would welcome volunteers for help there and with riding sessions.

Though the ranch is a nonprofit, currently all of the expenses are out-of-pocket, so donations of tack (especially child-sized,) lead ropes, halters, bareback pads, bits and bridles are welcome. Senior Equine feed, Special Horse feed and oats would also be useful. Many parents have to pay for therapy riding sessions because their insurance doesn’t cover them. Larish says sponsorships for those children would mean a great deal to parents facing additional medical costs. For more information on donating, equine therapy sessions or general riding sessions, email rjranch911@gmail.com or call (740) 686-2989. 

Native American animal totems indicate the spirit of the horse is about inner strength, drive and overcoming obstacles to pursue goals in life. Larish says that “watching people come alive again” around the horses—as they develop their strengths--keeps her mission with the ranch at the forefront. But it is Larish’s own ability to overcome obstacles that has given new life and purpose to a farm, to neglected horses, troubled children and patients and parents looking for hope.

Rescue Me: A (Bridle) Path to Renewal--Part 1

I've been debating about what to post here the last week, but this feature appeared over the weekend, and I thought I would share this woman's story. It's a remarkable place, full of promise and hope. This is the first installment, which appeared in The Times Leader on Saturday, July 26. I am still deciding on whether to post my series on heroin, which isn't nearly so uplifting.

JACOBSBURG—Julie Larish promised herself—and God—that if her family got away from the abusive situation in which they lived and into safety, she would try to provide sanctuary to others. She fled to the West Coast and built a new life, the foundation for her venture, R. J. Ranch & Riding Center, now that she’s returned to her hometown. 

Larish’s training in medical assisting got her a position in the California mental health system. A local sheriff set her up with a horse ranch--a lifelong interest—where Larish saw her own daughter develop confidence and self-esteem as she spent time with the horses. Another little girl also inspired Larish’s pursuit of equine therapy programs. She was wheelchair-bound and not communicative, but began riding and interacting with the horses on the ranch. Larish says this girl not only walks and talks now, but shares her story of recovery through equine therapy with others.

Larish eventually moved to Idaho to start her own ranch with equine therapy programs and teach college courses in horse behavior, horse nutrition and horseback riding. One of her clients had to get rid of her horses and told Larish about her Arabian left with a trainer who was starving the animal. Rescuing Berica was an important move for Larish.

“I was leery of Arabians because they aren’t like other horses,” Larish explains. “You can tell other horses what to do. After working with Berica, it came to me: other horses react; Arabians think. Once I realized that they have this special connection with humans, training was easier. She was one of the best horses I ever had. I miss her every day.”

Berica, who passed away a few months ago, not only lived out her life as a top therapy horse, but was named the “2008 4-H Horse of the Year” in the state of Idaho for her therapy work.

How does equine therapy, or equine assisted therapy (EAT,) work? As early as 600 BC the Greeks were riding horses as a means of therapy, and it came to the United States in the 1960s from Europe. While other animals have been used in treatments, horses have been found very effective because of their size, non-judgmental attitudes, their ability to respond immediately to direction and their characteristic “mirroring” of their riders’ emotions. This provides quick feedback to the rider, to the instructor and to the therapist.

Generally speaking, a therapist (psychological, occupational or speech) determines the patient’s primary needs. They may stem from an illness, an injury, an impairment or abuse. Patients may not even touch the horse at first. With the help of an equine instructor, he or she may need to get comfortable with the horse’s size or even being in a farm environment. The patient may take the reins and walk the horse around the arena, then work up to feeding, brushing and grooming the horse. This is good for patients who need to work on trust, self-esteem and motor skills.

Riding a horse builds confidence and helps muscular illnesses by working, stretching and strengthening the body’s muscular-skeletal systems. At RJ Ranch riders have up to three attendants with them—one leading the horse and one on each side of the rider to ensure the rider is stable. Larish also has riders not use saddles when possible to further work the muscles and get to know the horse’s muscular responses to commands. Patients involved with EAT often show marked improvement quickly, sometimes at many levels, because they are focusing on the relationship with the horse rather than the therapy.

“It psychologically boosts confidence. If you can control a 1,200 pound horse with your pinkies, what can you do with the rest of your life?” Larish adds.

Larish was running her successful ranch in Idaho when her mother called asking if she could “come back home.” She decided to make the move and bring her ranch with her. Restoring a 200-year old farm wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but Larish says, “I called the owner about using the fields, and I bought it.”

One building, a garage, had to come down right away, but bringing back the farmhouse and barn and re-working 88 acres along historic Drover’s Trail (State Route 147) has become another rescue mission.

The property was rented for 12 years prior and had fallen into neglect. The barn had to be shored up, adding new beams, a floor, electric and water to the building. They built stalls and a tack room downstairs—after cleaning out “about two feet” of old, hardened manure on the floors. The house was no better. The tenants had left rooms full of beer cans and dirty diapers, and, in an upstairs bedroom, the carpet was still wet with dog urine. In all, Larish and her crew—family, friends and volunteers—removed eight dump truck loads of garbage and debris from the three buildings before they could begin any renovations. They are now working room by room in the house as they get the riding business up and running.

And there are 19 horses that need care, one boarder and 18 of the ranch’s. Some Larish has acquired through riding clients, but eight have been rescued. Friend Lillian Siebieda talks about rescuing four horses after a desperate phone call. The man’s ex-son-in-law planned to shoot the horses at the end of the day if they were still on the farm. Larish and Siebeda scrambled to get a trailer ready and travel several counties away.

“It was January and snowing and cold,” she recalls. “We pulled up and opened the trailer door. I was holding the reins and trying to get my footing because of the ice, but the horses were just about running to that trailer. When they saw it, it was like they knew this was their one chance to make it out. All of them jumped right in.”

They also rescued two emaciated colts from an elderly man who had 47 horses but was too old to care for them. One of the colts was so sick he couldn’t stand on his own. Workers at RJ Ranch gave him the nutrition and physical therapy necessary to have him standing on his own, and now he walks in the pastures.

“We just try to give them the best life we can and condition them for therapy,” adds Larish.

Feelin' "Saucy?"

Fresh food, memories, passion--it's all in the sauce. Here's what I dished up for Saturday, July 5th's Times Leader.  I'm looking forward to talking with these people again.

Say “Italian,” think “food.” Americans have embraced the warm, familial culture expressed often by “Mangia, mangia” (“Eat, eat.”) Comforting meals prepared with love, gardens full of tomatoes and peppers and herbs, and family recipes of simple but hearty, real food are still hallmarks of Italian cuisine.  

                Truly some of the most beloved dishes are those of pasta with sauces—rich and red or decadent with melted cheese and butter or fragrant basil and olive oil. They do have histories, however. Pesto sauce, herbs “pounded” with olive oil, was probably created in Persia using coriander and adopted by the early Greeks and Romans using basil. It was definitely part of the cuisine in Medieval Italy. Many variations have followed, but the key to pesto is grinding or pounding the ingredients into a pulp.

The origins of a basic white sauce called Bechamel (bay-shah-mel) are fuzzier. Italians credit Catherine de Medici (and the chef who traveled with her) for bringing this sauce to France when she married the future King Henri II in the 14th century. However, the French argue that in the 1600s Duke Philippe de Mornay, Marquis Louis de Bechamel or, most likely, Chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne, a court chef for King Louis XIV, created the sauce made with butter, cream and flour.

Tomatoes have become nearly synonymous with Italian food. An ancient fruit used as a vegetable, the tomato was probably “discovered” by the Aztecs. By 500 BC it was being cultivated in Mexico. No one in Italy even saw tomatoes until Spanish explorers Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortez brought them back to Europe from South America. At that time a botanist likened tomatoes to eggplant, and they were grown for decoration rather than food. Over the next two-hundred years Italians—especially the wealthy--assimilated them into regional dishes and soups around Naples and Genoa. In 1692 a tomato sauce appeared in an Italian recipe, but it wasn’t until 1790 when a recipe combining tomato sauce with pasta was included in L’Apicio Moderno, a cookbook by Neapolitan chef Francesco Leonardi.   

Two types of tomato sauces emerged as Italian cuisine evolved: sugo and ragu. Pellegrino Artusi, in his 1891 cookbook La Scienca en cucina e l’arte de mangier bene, defines sugo as “made from tomatoes that are simply cooked and run through a food mill. At the most, you may add a small rib of celery and a few leaves of parsley and basil to tomato sugo, if you must."

Ragu sauces are richer and heavier, made with meat, vegetables, wine and, possibly, cream. Its origins are attributed to Bologna.  

Immigration at the turn of the 20th century fueled the market for Italian imports of olive oil, fruit and canned tomato sauce from the homeland and created a new food industry in the United States for citrus fruits and tomatoes. It also introduced most Americans to Italian food as enterprising immigrants set up restaurants using family recipes.

Today’s Italian cooks are still using some of those recipes, and the annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival at Wheeling’s Heritage Port, this year from July 25 through 27, celebrates the culture, history and food. For the second year the festival will host a sauce contest, open to the public, with three categories: red, white and “miscellaneous” (such as pesto.)

One of the contest judges, a chef for 30 years who grew up in a traditional Italian family, says that people do still use family recipes—when they cook. Hectic lives have families reaching for processed foods or fast foods instead of fresh tomatoes and herbs from a backyard garden. But it doesn’t have to be home grown to be good, she adds.

“There are some really good canned tomato products out there,” the judge explains. “Take canned tomatoes, some spices, garlic. Make a whole batch and freeze part of it. It’s a lot cheaper than jarred sauces, and you’re using real food. People need to get back to real food.”

Lisa Badia of Wheeling grew up in Bellaire in a large Italian family with her grandparents close by.

“My sauce recipe is in my grandmother’s handwriting, Teresa DiPaolo Badia,” she says. “She used her own tomatoes and canned them. My only modification to her recipe is that I use organic sauce rather than growing my own tomatoes.”

Badia’s father lovingly tended backyard gardens which provided the foundation for their meals. When she visited Italy Badia says she was “humbled” when she saw the same gardens in Italian yards where her ancestors lived.

“I really felt the connection to my heritage, to the food,” she adds.  

Frank Muraca grew up in Wheeling a third-generation steel mill worker. Last year he won three medals in the Italian Festival sauce contest: silvers for his Bolognese and puttanesca sauces and gold for his marinara. He describes himself as a “self-taught” cook though, he, too, grew up in a traditional Italian household and remembers a neighborhood full of small family grocers and shops with “cheeses hanging from the ceiling.”

He developed an appreciation for culinary arts as a bachelor who wanted “good food” like that of his childhood. Muraca grows his own herbs and has extensively researched canned tomatoes to find the right taste.  He remembers his grandmother’s sauces with beef, pork and even rabbit, and adds that his father was an excellent cook. His method is trial and error, and he encourages others to do the same. 

“There are a lot of good cooks in the Valley, but if you want to learn you have to keep trying,” Muraca notes. “I don’t have to measure anymore, but I do have to taste while I’m cooking. The key is to make it the way you like it.”

Local caterer Diane Conroy says that by the time she was 10 years old she could cook well enough to prepare a family meal. Her sauce recipe comes from the old country, too. Her Uncle Joe and his mother taught her aunt the fine points of sauce making, and she passed the recipe on to her sisters (including Diane’s mother.) Sauce ingredients came from the garden, and children were expected to pitch in and help with picking, prepping and canning.    

For Conroy, who cooks sauce by the gallon now, preserving the recipes helps preserve family memories.

As a child I felt I knew many of my relatives that had passed away already just by listening to the stories about them and the food they made or how much they loved the recipe we were eating,” she explains. “Our mothers (the sisters) would get together at least once a month to cook for the family. We were together learning about our family's history and faith. The best times even today are cherished because of favorite recipes, stories and traditions of my own family.”

Conroy plans to enter the sauce contest this year, and Muraca is busy preparing three entries again, his marinara and two other sauces. The judge is also looking forward to the contest and has some advice for home cooks.

“Most people cook the sauce either too long or not long enough,” she notes. “There has to be a balance between tart and sweet from the ingredients, but a sauce doesn’t need to cook all day. Sauces should have some viscosity, but not be like jelly. A rich sauce like a Bolognese should have some weight. It shouldn’t run off the spoon, but drip off of it.”

She and Muraca caution against putting sugar in sauces. According to them, good sauces should have a tang, but any sweetness should come from good quality tomatoes, or, as Muraca recalls a relative doing, adding a carrot. 

 Information and entry forms are available online at www.italyfest.com. The deadline for the sauces is July 10, and only homemade sauces are eligible. Entry fees are $10 for the first jar and $6 for each additional entry. For questions, contact Kim Smith, festival coordinator at (304) 242-1090 during regular business hours.

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho

In spite of the fact that I cut my hours back at the paper to spend more time working on my parents' estate and getting my new life together, I ended up working on FOUR features last week. In fact, I worked all holiday weekend. Not happy.

I'm stressing now about getting everything done at the house. My brother is on his way here as I type, and we have much to do with the contents and attorney this week. I have a project at the County to finish and turn in Thursday, and another feature is due Friday.

That feature, though, is something that I am happy to write. Local artist Cathy Carpenter has designed a line of beautiful necklaces and earrings incorporating poly-clay with vintage buttons, findings and pieces of jewelry. All money from this line, called "Giving by Design," will be donated to the Schiffler Cancer Center at Wheeling Hospital. She invited me to her farm last week to do photos and talk about the project.

Three of her family members lost their battles with cancer within one year. Art was her therapy throughout and after. Now she is completing the circle by giving to other families. Donations will go toward grocery cards, gas cards, restaurant cards and other expenses that patients and families face while in town for treatments or appointments. I'll post the article here later this month.

Her farm has been in her husband's family for at least 150 years. The house itself is 140 years old and is still full of his grandparents' furniture. There are no cows or sheep anymore, but birds and butterflies are all around. Lucy the rescue kitty lounges on the patio, taking it all in.

Though I was there for work, it felt like a brief respite, far away from the craziness.

Having Words

Words are the most essential ingredient to my "business." Times change, language evolves, but is there a trend toward superficial communication? I've heard more than one parent talk about their teens sitting with a group of their friends TEXTING instead of TALKING to each other. Teachers have noticed that students become anxious during a conversation. Is "<3" really the same as "love?"  Yo.

COLUMN 21

By GLYNIS VALENTI Times Leader Staff Writer

A good deal of my life relates to words. Though I’m generally a visual person, words help me paint images and stories through description, connotation and metaphor.

I enjoy the histories and sounds of words and often look origins up when I’m writing, thanks to my seventh grade teacher Mrs. Hart, who introduced me to etymology. It’s intriguing how many of our words have grown from ancient Roman or Greek roots and how their meanings have evolved over centuries. One of my favorite words is “inspiration,” whose origin is the Latin “inspirare” meaning “to breathe in.”  Isn’t that beautiful? To breathe in that which leads to art, music, dance, inventions. I have visions of “living and breathing” one’s work.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there seems to have been—and I’m not particularly fond of this phrase--a “dumbing down” in and of America. Maybe it’s all over the world at this point, but somehow we’ve gone from this Valentine declaration by Margery Brews in 1477, “My heart bids me ever more to love you truly over all earthly thing,” to texting “I <3 u.” 

I’ve noticed the change while trying to find definitions and alternate words in dictionaries. It probably began in an effort to give students a portable reference guide, but most dictionaries-- paperbacks and online—now read like, basically, “Cliff Notes” versions. My friend Rich posted an article on Facebook about this shift and the author’s surprise at the difference between his dictionary and “Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary” from 1828 and 1913. I tested this for myself.

Under “inspiration” in the above-mentioned 1913 dictionary, one of the definitions reads, “the act or power of exercising an elevating or stimulating influence upon the intellect or emotions.” In “Webster’s New World Dictionary” the corresponding definition reads, “any stimulus to creative thought or action.” They aren’t quite the same. One is descriptive; the other feels like the corners have been cut.

Granted, the paperback dictionary was designed as a quick fix, but I’m wondering if there has been too much “quick” so that it has become the norm. After all, one can get immediate information as it unfolds right there at the source, and with the right buzzwords it’s trending in minutes. Too often, though, people form conclusions based on the face value of “Cliff Notes” and buzzwords rather than the unabridged versions of, seemingly, every situation. 

Since so much of my life is about words, I am sensitive about choices and take great care in choosing them to convey exactly the meaning I want to present. Obviously thoughts are energy, and energy and intent are sent out through words. For instance, when someone says, “I love you” it probably means “to take delight or pleasure in; to have a strong liking or desire for, or interest in; to be pleased with.” One feels that warm and fuzzy elation of good intent.

Words have that kind of power. Selecting them wisely is especially important when the speaker knows little about the person and circumstances to which his words are directed. Consider the word “ugly,” meaning “deformed, offensive to the sight, hateful, repulsive.” No good can come of deflating someone’s spirit. In fact, “Think Before You Speak” is a local school program that addresses this issue as bullying because words and their energies can be devastating.  

As I grapple with Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum,” a daunting but humorous 670-page mystery also recommended by friend Rich, I’ve learned about a new app for smart phones which seems to be the ultimate (“incapable of further division or separation”) in “Cliff Notes” communication: “Yo.”

If you wept over the decimation of the English language during the rises of Valley Girls and Ebonics and cringe at texts like “CUL8R” and “jk,” well, brace yourself. “Yo” is apparently the be-all, end-all of phrases now, which, probably unbeknownst to the app’s developers, dates back to Middle English.

According to the app’s description, verbatim (grammatical errors included,) “Wanna say ‘good morning?’ just Yo. Wanna say ‘Baby, I’m thinking about you?’—Yo. ‘I’ve finished my meeting, come by my office’—Yo.” What began innocently as efficiency has mushroomed into brazen and unapologetic laziness.

I hope there’s a mind-reading app available, too, because a single “Yo” appearing out of nowhere on my phone is not enough information. Am I supposed to meet someone at Panera? Do I need to reschedule a photo shoot? Do I have an admirer? A stalker? How does one determine whether it’s an “I love you” yo, or a break-up yo? As the app’s description points out, “The possibilities are endless.”

So not only have we decreased face-to-face encounters through email and texting and sanitized the definitions of our language, but we have depersonalized conversation by attempting to distill all emotion, intent, and meaningful interaction into one silly word—which, admittedly, would eliminate the need for dictionaries altogether.

A boggling one million people have downloaded the app in its first two weeks but will most likely have to talk to their recipients anyway to decipher those cryptic messages. Though the app is probably a joke, are we really moving away from beautiful language and our essential connections to it and to each other? Do I hear a yo? 

Rescue Me

I accepted an invitation and assignment for this afternoon. The feature will appear in the newspaper (and probably here) in late July, but I'm looking forward to telling this story. I thought I was covering a new equine therapy business, RJ Ranch and Riding Center, but as I spoke with people today, I realized it was a rescue story: preserving a local historic farm, saving animals literally hours from death and turning an autistic child's life around.

I did get some photos for the article today, but these are "artsy" ones of the old barn that Julie Larish, owner, says they've "pretty much rebuilt." Broken horses are mending and thriving as therapy animals brightening the futures of their clients. The email address is "rjranch911."